My husband suffered with hip and low back pain for about four months. It started right about the same time he was prescribed a new blood pressure medication. He didn’t think much of the pain at first because he was recovering from a groin injury, the result of a close encounter with a hockey puck while playing the game.
But the pain grew in intensity over the following weeks. He’s a bit of a tough guy and sometimes it takes some sleuthing to figure out what’s bothering him. As with most tough guys, Jamie tends to forge on with his normal level of activity even if something is wrong. I think that’s called denial. But he’d started applying ice packs to his lower back and hips each morning and night so I knew he was really suffering. I’d encouraged him to see our primary care physician, which he did for an overdue physical exam.
He came home that day, thrilled that he’d received such a good health report for a 58-year-old.
I asked him, “Did you tell Dr. S. about your hip pain?”
Jamie looked away.
“I guess so. It wasn’t so bad when I was in the doctor’s office.”
We’ve been married for 27 years. His reaction didn’t surprise me, but I was concerned about what was causing him such pain, concerned about his fatigue, the change in his mood, the wincing.
“Did you discuss the possibility of an MRI with the doctor?”
“Why not?” Now I was annoyed.
“I don’t know. He didn’t bring it up.”
I sighed. I’m a health care advocate and have written two books on patient advocacy. You’d think my husband would have gotten wind of some of the information I’d been touting for all these years. I emailed our doctor and explained that Jamie might not have revealed the extent of his pain in the office visit.
Our doctor convinced my husband to see an orthopedist. After the appointment, Jamie acted cagey, tight lipped about what the doctor had said. He muttered something about inflammation and bursa.
“Bursitis?” I asked. “Is that what you
“I don’t know. I don’t want to talk about it. I have to get an MRI.” And he pulled out his phone and started texting. “We’re short a goalie for tonight’s game. I have to find someone to fill in for him or we won’t get to play.”
I wanted to shout, “What? You’re going to play hockey when you’re in this kind of pain?” But I didn’t say anything because I knew the answer. Jamie was scared that something was seriously wrong with this hip, worried that like a good friend of his, he might end up needing a hip replacement. That would put an end to hockey and skiing, sports he truly loves.
After the MRI, Jamie put off a follow-up appointment with the orthopedist to hear the results.
However, last weekend something interesting transpired. I had lunch with a good friend of mine and mentioned Jamie’s problem. I said to her, “I’ve never seen him in this kind of pain.”
She said, “Do you remember when John had hip pain? He stopped the statin he was taking and hasn’t had pain since.”
The light bulb blinked in my brain. I blurted out, “Jamie’s on a new blood pressure medication.” Could blood pressure medications have similar side effects as statins?
I raced home to find Jamie again on ice packs. Seated next to him, my computer in my lap, I researched his blood pressure medication. The side effects were fatigue, dizziness, muscle cramps, and more. I stumbled upon patient reviews and read them aloud to Jamie. “Muscle and joint pain, extreme fatigue, mood changes and dizziness.”
I had his attention then. “Yes, yes. I’ve been dizzy.” He hadn’t told me that.
My eyes on my computer, I said, “All these patients are reporting extreme fatigue, leg cramps …”
Excited now, Jamie said, “I had leg cramps when I took Lucy (our daughter) skiing. I thought it was because I hadn’t skied in a while.”
He hadn’t mentioned that either. But hope spurred me on. I read more out loud. “Extreme lower back pain, hip pain.”
We turned to each other. Could it be? Jamie urged me to continue. The more I read, hip and back pain popping up in most of the responses, the more he nodded his head. “I can’t believe it,” he said with more hope and enthusiasm than I’d heard in months. “Thank you,” he said, hugging me. He then confessed that he’d been dreading playing hockey every week because of the pain. “I don’t know how much longer they’ll let me stay on the league. I’m the old guy, you know.”
I understood right then just how worried he’d been, not just about the source of the pain but about growing older, losing activities that enhanced his vitality.
And then I got to thinking. How many people take new medications, have side effects, and write them off to other causes? And end up with unnecessary tests and misdiagnoses? We all lose sight of changes in our physical condition when we’re not paying attention. And who pays attention to their bodies all the time? Certainly not me, and certainly not men like Jamie.
But it is important to pay attention. If you have new symptoms, ask yourself if a new medication could be the culprit.
Jamie stopped the new blood pressure medication seven days ago. Over coffee this morning, he said with a grin, “The pain is pretty much gone.”
Martine Ehrenclou is a patient advocate. She is the author of Critical Conditions: The Essential Hospital Guide to Get Your Loved One Out Alive and The Take-Charge Patient.