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Pain management: Listen to your body

Understanding every little niggle and ache that your body registers is key to avoiding a serious ailment in future

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GN Focus

Sore joints, headaches and an off stomach are normal symptoms of the stresses and strains of everyday life. As we get older — unless we hit the yoga mat every day and eat nothing but clean food — these irksome pains tend to be more frequent. 

However, that doesn’t mean we should not listen to what our body is telling us.

GN Focus gets experts to round up common complaints and how to assess them for seriousness.


Pain in the ear is usually caused by infection or eczema in the ear, says Dr Beckie Rugut, resident doctor at UAE telemedicine service Health at Hand. 

“However, there are a couple of conditions to be aware of. Cholesteatoma is a non-cancerous growth that develops behind the eardrum. It can cause discharge, pressure and pain in the ear. It may also cause hearing loss, balance problems and affect the function of the facial muscles. 

“If you have any of these symptoms, it is important to see a doctor.” 

Ramsay Hunt syndrome occurs when we have shingles, which affects the nerves on the face. “The blisters of shingles can affect the ear and cause pain,” she says. “It is important to get this treated as soon as possible. If not treated it can affect your hearing and cause paralysis of your facial muscles.”

Mouth pain

Pain in the mouth can be caused by common ailments such as mouth ulcers and gum disease. “Sometimes it can just be a case of burning our tongues on hot food or drinks that causes pain,” says Dr Rugut. 

“However, Behcet’s disease is a condition that causes blood vessel inflammation around the body and one of the symptoms is ulcers in the mouth,” she adds. 
“It is important if you have a lot of mouth ulcers that do not settle within a few days that you see a doctor. Behcet’s disease should be treated to prevent complications.”

Abdominal pain

Stomach pain is extremely common and can be caused by a vast number of problems.

“Most of these are minor conditions,” says Dr Ruhil Badiani, a family medicine consultant with Health at Hand. “But, if you have severe pain in your stomach, it is important to see a doctor.

"Appendicitis is common with pain usually starting in the middle of your stomach around your belly button and then moving to the right lower side of your stomach. You might have a fever, vomiting and sometimes diarrhea. 

“Less commonly, bowels can become obstructed. This can happen for several reasons including bowel cancer. Vomiting, constipation and having a swollen stomach are all symptoms of bowel obstruction.”

Pain in the side of the head

Most people suffer from headaches at some point in their lives. However, if these are persistent, you must examine the underlying causes.

“Migraines tend to affect one side of the head and sometimes pain around the eye on that side,” says Dr Badiani. “With a migraine you might get some flashing lights or floaters called an aura before the headache starts. 

“A less common but important cause of headache on the side of the head is temporal arteritis. This is when there is inflammation in the blood vessel at the temple. It causes a headache and the vision might also be affected as this artery supplies the eye.

This is a serious complication and would need urgent treatment to prevent loss of vision.”

Lower back pain

Lower back pain can make life miserable, with common causes involving disease or injury to the muscles, bones or nerves of the spine.

Dr Feroz Khan, Medical Director and Family Physician at Apple Clinic in Dubai, says pain arising from abnormalities of organs within the abdomen, pelvis or chest may also be felt in the back. 

“This is called referred pain. Many disorders within the abdomen, such as appendicitis, aneurysms, kidney diseases, kidney infection, bladder infections, pelvic infections and ovarian disorders can cause referred pain on the back.

“Normal pregnancy can cause back pain in many ways, including stretching ligaments within the pelvis, irritating nerves and straining the low back. Your doctor will have this in mind when evaluating your pain. Physiotherapy is a great solution for this.”

Left upper arm pain

The left upper arm pain, in most cases, can be related to simple muscle or bone problems such as a strain or shoulder joint injury.

However, if you have other symptoms associated with the pain, for example chest pain, difficulty in breathing, fever and sweating, there may be a more serious cause such as pneumonia or a heart attack, says Dr Rugut.

“If you have any risk factors for heart attacks, which include pre-existing heart conditions, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and a family history, then call for an ambulance so that you can be seen urgently.”

"My eye pain turned out to be an ulcer"

Shahram Nabili, CEO of Health Call, urges people to always find the cause of even seemingly small pains.

An eye doctor himself, he talks about his experience dealing with hidden causes of pain. He remembers neglecting eye pain when he was in his teens thinking it was a red eye and continued to scratch his eye. The pain didn’t let up, and when he had it tested it turned out to be an eye ulcer.

He shares another incident. “My friend was suffering from stomach pain. Upon consultation, he was prescribed to take steroids and a few painkillers. He continued taking painkillers, but neglected the steroids after a while as the pain had stopped.

"Four years later, the pain re-emerged, and upon consultation it was found that he was suffering from Crohn’s disease, which had worsened due to lack of steroids.”

Nabili explains the best cure for any disease is early detection and prevention. And paying closer attention to pains and aches helps detect diseases. 
— As told to Shada Amina