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When you feel a sudden pain, how do you know when to wait it out and when to seek immediate medical attention? A rule of thumb is that if the pain is bad enough to make you think about going to the hospital, you should go. If you have pain and you’re not sure what’s going on, the experts at TriHealth’s Emergency Departments can evaluate it, or in non-emergency situations, you can talk to your primary care physician. Doctors would rather see someone and send them home after determining their problem is indigestion than have them sit at home suffering a heart attack or other serious problem.
The most common signs of pain that could signal a serious health problem include those listed below.
Heart attack pain can feel like pressure in the center of your chest, which may spread to the jaw, neck and arm. Other possible heart attack signs include pain that gets worse when you exert yourself, shortness of breath, nausea and sweatiness. At the hospital, a person with chest pain will get an electrocardiogram (EKG) to check for problems with the electrical activity of the heart. If you experience heart attack symptoms, call 911 immediately.
While most headaches are not a sign of a severe medical problem, there’s one exception: pain that comes on suddenly, particularly after exertion, and feels like the worst headache of your life. This could be a sign of an aneurysm, or bleeding in the brain. At the hospital, a person with a sudden, severe headache may have a CT scan or MRI.
If you have leg pain along with swelling of the leg, it could be a sign of a blood clot. The pain caused by a blood clot feels like throbbing or aching. A blood clot is diagnosed with an ultrasound. Blood clots should be identified and treated as quickly as possible because an untreated clot could get larger, break off and go to the lungs, where it can cause a life-threatening problem.
Common causes of abdominal pain include appendicitis, gallstones (hardened deposits of digestive fluid that can form in your gallbladder), pancreatitis (an inflamed pancreas) and diverticulitis (when pouches in the wall of the colon get inflamed or infected). Appendicitis is associated with pain in the right lower section of the abdomen and is often accompanied by fever, nausea and vomiting. Anyone with these symptoms should go directly to the ED. Gallstones cause pain in the right upper section of the abdomen, often after eating a fatty meal. The pain can be severe and is often associated with nausea.
While most cases of back pain are caused by muscle strain, some types of back pain are a sign of a more serious problem. Back pain associated with weakness and numbness in the arms and legs or accompanied by fever should be evaluated immediately. This type of back pain could be a sign of a spinal cord infection, which should be treated right away to reduce the risk of permanent damage to the spinal cord. Severe upper back pain, whether or not it’s accompanied by chest pain, could be a sign of a heart attack or aneurysm.