But what if it's your body pain telling you, "I hurt here." Is that where you are really hurt? Nope, not at all. There's this contradiction where the body is concerned called referred pain. So you can't believe everything you feel. Sometimes
For example when I had my heart attack, I never once felt like there was an elephant sitting on my chest. Late one summer afternoon, I had just gotten off work as the executive chef at the local Marriott. They were opening a brand new hotel and it was opening the next day. So as you can imagine, I was extremely busy with last minute details. I started sweating profusely and was exhausted. It was only 100 degrees F. outside and I had gone in at 5AM, 10 hours ago. I was huffing, puffing, and almost gasping for any cool breeze as I got home. My head was pounding so I knew my blood pressure was up. For me, heat and stress will do that.
Alarm bells went off in my brain. I couldn't put my finger on it, but I knew something bad was happening to my body. A memory buried in my brain what this was a symptom of, but all I could remember was it was an emergency. I called to my husband and asked if he wanted to go with me to pick up our youngest daughter from school. He agreed. The hospital was only two blocks from the school. Although I didn't feel ill, I knew for safety sake I should have someone that could drive with me. My husband couldn't legally drive on the controlled pain medication he was on, but I figured that a couple of blocks wouldn't matter.
I walked into the ER and gave them my name. When they asked what was wrong the answer that eluded me became crystal clear...heart attack. Pain in the neck and jaw are referred pain indicators for a heart attack. I collapsed after uttering the words.
So why is this important to know about referred pain? Just because you have pain in one place, say your hip, it doesn't mean you have an orthopedic problem. You could have a lower back spasm, kidney infection, bladder infection, pelvic inflammatory disease, or it could be your hip.
When I had my first stroke, I misdiagnosed myself. Dizziness, couldn't put words together correctly, confusion, disorientation, sluggish motor skills all spelled low blood sugar caused by not eating or too much insulin. The first thing I did was take my blood sugar. Yep I was right. My blood sugar was 40 (80-112 is normal). I knew I shouldn't try to cook in that state so I called Pizza Hut to have a pie delivered. Meanwhile, I'd taken my vital signs...just to be safe. My blood pressure was high 180/96, but it had run much higher before. My pulse rate was a little fast at 95, but again, no real cause for alarm. My breathing was steady. I didn't hurt anywhere. It had to be my diabetes so I ate some sugar wafers and drank some juice.
I didn't think to look in the mirror for facial droop, or know that my speech was so slurred that even my daughter couldn't understand anything I said but help. The rest of the story you know. If I had known that strokes could cause a bottoming out of blood sugars would I have done things differently, probably not. Even the nurses that took care of me in the stroke unit didn't know that either. We simply were taught to look for elevated blood sugars as a possible symptom of a stroke. The neurologist at the rehab facility told us.
Why am I quoting symptoms on a blog about referred pain? If you haven't guessed by now, referred pain is also a symptom.
It's like that old MD joke...
"It hurts when I do this" and the doc answers back, "Well, don't do that."
Doctors are diagnosticians. They take all the information you can give them and make a judgement call (best guess). So if you have a pain in your shoulder, they are going to check to see if there's anything wrong with your shoulder. But, they may also run an EKG to make sure it's not a heart problem. They may run extensive blood tests to check for infections and/or unbalanced chemicals in your liver. They may even order an ultrasound of your gall bladder. Yep, referred pain could mean all sorts of things or nothing at all.
It doesn't hurt to check with your doctor when you have pain. Granted I have Fibromyalgia, so any amount of pain really smarts. But I'determine what is causing my pain and where it comes from. Plus, I'm medically trained. I research all pain, I have to find the cause.It's almost an obsession. Sometimes it's nothing, but on many occasions it's something. Never assume the pain you're feeling is directly from that area. It could be referred pain.
Nothing is impossible with determination.