If I at least knew what to blame...
August 31, 2008 12:36 PM   Subscribe

Started with a god-awful headache early Thursday morning, developed back pain/spasms later in the day, and a fever (102.9F) that night. Everything else has subsided, but the back pain persists. So I've got a few questions...

I'll try to keep this as brief and fact-oriented as possible:

--Went to bed Wednesday night with a mild headache, figured I'd sleep it off.

--Woke up 7:30 Thursday morning with what has to be the worst headache I've experienced to date. Pain was in my forehead and up, pretty consistently hurt and was worse with motion/movement.

--Took two advil (400mg total) at 9:30. Went back to sleep, woke up at 11:30 at least 40% better, took a third advil (another 200mg).

--Later in the day (I don't quite remember when), the headache had gotten mildly better, but I'd developed lower/almost mid back pain.

--Sat around with a heat pad for the back pain, headache worsened again. Turned the heat pad off for a while so i can lay down on my side and rest my head. After an hour or so I realize I have chills, and lo and behold, I have a fever of 101.6.

--Within an hour or so, my fever progressed to 102.9, so I took a tepid shower and some tylenol to bring it down. Got it down to 102.5 before going to bed.

--Woke up around 11 on Friday, temp was down to 100.5, took more tylenol for the back pain (muscle spasms). A few hours later my fever was completely gone, and my back was allowing me to function, so I got some packing and laundry done.

--Woke up yesterday and today with the back pain/muscle spasms having returned, to the point where getting out of bed or a chair is a process.

Whew. Okay, so... Other things that should probably be mentioned: I'm female, 22 years old, in decent health. Prior to Thursday, I hadn't done any heavy lifting or exercise that could've resulted in back strain. Common sense tells me that the fever was the result of an infection, but I don't know of what. Now that the muscle spasms have mostly subsided (leaving me with a stiff lower back and random little spasms if I push my luck), I'm left with some mild pressure in the lower back and to the sides a little.

So, a couple of questions (I know YANAD or YANMD):
1. Any guesses on what the heck is going on?
2. What are the chances this is something internal (my mom's theory is that it's a kidney infection, but I hesitate to jump to things like that), and not just back muscle strain or something with my spine?
3. Should I make an appointment with my GP or a chiropractor?

I'm probably forgetting something, and I tend to rant, so feel free to ask for clarification.
posted by lisawin to Health & Fitness (18 answers total)
Could be anything from the flu to cancer to nothing at all. Yes, you should see your GP.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 12:49 PM on August 31, 2008

In light of your fever, you should definitely get to your GP and not a chiro. It could be a whole host of things, but my first thought (and of course, IANAD) when I hear fever, back pain, and headache is that it could be meningitis, which could be serious. But of course, again, IANAD. Go to one, and let them diagnose you.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:50 PM on August 31, 2008

Second on kidney infection, from my wife's personal experience.
"Worse and worse back pain for days", she said, until she was shivering
uncontrollably and could hardly get out of bed to get the phone, when
she called an ambulance.
posted by the Real Dan at 12:51 PM on August 31, 2008

Probably worth seeing a GP. I recently had the Worst Migraine Ever and they told me to come in ASAP for a quick check just to be sure I didn't have any of the handful of really bad things that an atypically painful headache could portend.

He was particularly concerned about whether I might have meningitis, and a couple of the warning signs he was worried about were a fever and shoulder/back pain. Of course, meningitis is likely not what you have, but it's possible, it's bad news, and you're probably better off erring on the side of caution here.
posted by Stacey at 12:53 PM on August 31, 2008

3. Should I make an appointment with my GP or a chiropractor?

Chiropractors are quacks1. Go and see a doctor.

1 Ernst, E. (2008) Chiropractic: a critical evaluation, Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, 35(5), pp. 544-562 >>
posted by alby at 12:58 PM on August 31, 2008 [6 favorites]

Agreeing with others that you should call a doctor. There are certainly a number of things that can cause headaches and back pain with fever, but the first thing that I thought of was encephalitis.
posted by sarahmelah at 1:28 PM on August 31, 2008

Look, my wife got very sick this time last year and was in and out of the hospital several times. High fever plus stiffness are potentially bad symptoms, so you should go to the doctor to rule out things like meningitis. It's very possible you have a minor infection and will get better with time, but it's better to be safe than dead.
posted by JMOZ at 1:52 PM on August 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've had friends with similar symptoms put off seeing the doctor, only to discover later on that they had a very serious infection requiring hospitalization. As others have pointed out it could be anything - fever and back pain are symptoms of many illnesses large and small from the flu, to a UTI/kidney infection, to gallstones to meningitis. Hopefully it's just a bug, but please see a physician.
posted by abirae at 2:06 PM on August 31, 2008

Alby, we could do without your opinions on chiropractors.

Back pain doesn't always mean problems with the back itself. There is something called referred pain that indicates a pain that occurs not where the injury or illness originates. Back pain is a big area of referred pain.

Yes, I would agree with others that headache + back pain + fever = reason to get checked out by a doctor.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 2:09 PM on August 31, 2008

Could also be Lyme disease. A slight rash somewhere (doesn't have to be a bullseye rash) would be a clincher. Lyme presents in a lot of different ways. Antibiotics will fix it if caught early enough.
posted by Gungho at 4:30 PM on August 31, 2008

It definitely sounds exactly like the handful of kidney infections I've had. You should definitely see a doctor as soon as you can, because it's going to get worse and harder to get rid of the longer you wait.
posted by arianell at 5:43 PM on August 31, 2008

Lymes disease was my first thought too. Because I've had it twice, as have a lot of people I know. The headache + back issues is normal for this. My neighbor had this about a month ago. Same symptoms. Ended up in the hospital for a week with viral meningitis brought about by the Lymes. He just got the shunt into his heart taken out last week. It's probably not that, but if you have been hiking/camping/in a place with lots of deer lately it is something to think about.

Any way you slice it, a bad and unusual headache coupled with inexplicable back pains needs to be taken very seriously.
posted by Patapsco Mike at 6:08 PM on August 31, 2008

I had a kidney infection in high school that had very similar symptoms.
posted by Benjy at 9:23 PM on August 31, 2008

It sounds like meningitis, but rupture of a brain aneurysm can also do this. I think you need a doctor.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:21 PM on August 31, 2008

Sounds like how I felt whilst developing a kidney infection, also how I felt whilst developing shingles (before the rash appeared)

Doctor. Go. To.
posted by unbearablylight at 5:38 AM on September 1, 2008

Response by poster: Update: Still felt a little better this morning, but to be sure I called my GP's office, who paged the on-call doctor (hooray labor day...), who then called me. I quickly explained everything to him, and he suggested I go to the emergency room (to be safe). After a mere two hours and a pee-cup, I was told there was no sign of infection. They gave me prescriptions for robaxin and ultracet and diagnosed me with "strain - lumbar spine". and now I feel really dumb. :\
posted by lisawin at 9:22 PM on September 1, 2008

Don't feel dumb, lisawin! You did the right thing. I hope you feel 100% better soon.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:49 PM on September 1, 2008

Well they certainly couldn't test for Lyme that quickly. What tests did the do?
posted by Gungho at 8:33 AM on September 3, 2008

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