Oliver: When are aches and pains more than simply aging?

Joan Oliver
Joan Oliver

A lot of us these days are tired, achy and a little foggy, particularly if we aren’t getting any younger. Or at least that’s what we tell ourselves.

But what if those symptoms aren’t just the “normal” aging process?

That’s what my friend Dori found out, and she’s eager to relate her story, since she, too, was inclined to write off her symptoms. That is, until they got so bad that she needed to act.

A year or two ago, Dori noticed that she started experiencing stiffness, achiness and muscle and joint pain. At first, she thought it was just because she had hit her 10th anniversary as a paralegal and spent too much time sitting at a desk.

So she took on a cleaning job with her sister in order to “get myself moving,” she said.

Unfortunately, the muscle pain didn’t get better; it got worse. And it wasn’t a normal muscle pain. This was deeper and more stubborn, she said.

She tried sleeping on ice, painkillers, heat therapy, massages. Nothing helped.

“Something weird is going on here,” she said.

Maybe it’s just aging, she reasoned. After all, she had turned 62 last April. Yet, the pain, which started in her muscles and then in her leg bones, eventually moved to her knees, hips and shoulders.

However, pain wasn’t the only symptom. Dori found herself in a constant state of low-grade nausea. She tried changing her diet to deal with her stomach issues, often eating saltines and drinking soda.

Then there was the mental fog, which for a capable, organized paralegal isn’t normal, either.

“I was making dumb mistakes. I’d be thinking I was texting my boss and I’d be texting my sister,” Dori said. “Am I just losing my mind?”

The three months before she finally saw her doctor, the fatigue she experienced was debilitating. She related how she would sit down on a chair, fall asleep and wake up two hours later.

“I was dragging myself through the day,” she said. “Every day I wanted to stay in bed.”

When she saw her doctor late last year, she listed her symptoms and a blood test was ordered.

Her calcium levels, which had for years been a little high, now were very high. Further testing found elevated parathyroid hormone levels.

So what is that? Separate from the thyroid, the parathyroid gland regulates the balance of calcium in the body. When too much of that hormone is produced, it causes calcium to be pulled out of the bones.

Not only can that cause osteoporosis, but hyperparathyroidism can cause other problems as well. Some people experience vague symptoms, such as fatigue and moodiness. Others have more serious symptoms, such as depression, recurrent kidney stones, heart disease, high blood pressure and bone pain.

Happily, there’s a 98% cure rate for the condition: removing the overactive parathyroid gland or glands. Since the body normally has four such glands, removal usually brings relief.

Dori underwent a series of tests to make sure she was a candidate for the surgery, as well as to locate the offending gland. She arranged for her surgery to be done by the chief of endocrine surgery at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

The surgery, which she had done March 21, was outpatient, and today she has a 1-inch incision on her neck that is healing.

“I’m feeling much more of my old self,” she said.

Still, it will take a little while to recover fully, but so far, so good.

“I’m sorry I waited so long,” she said.

• Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at

Loading more

Digital Access

Digital Access
Access and all Shaw Media Illinois content from all your digital devices and receive breaking news and updates from around the area.

Home Delivery

Home Delivery
Local news, prep sports, Chicago sports, local and regional entertainment, business, home and lifestyle, food, classified and more! News you use every day! Daily, weekend and Sunday packages.

Text Alerts

Text Alerts
Stay connected to us wherever you are! Get breaking news updates along with other area information sent to you as a text message to your wireless device.

Email Newsletters

Email Newsletters
We'll deliver news & updates to your inbox. Plan your weekend and catch up on the news with our newsletters.