Everybody experiences pain at one time or another and we will often ignore it. But there are certain types of pain you shouldn’t ignore.
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 sweating.
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. This type of headache needs immediate medical attention.
Stomach pain is one of the most common complaints seen in the ER. In as many as half of cases, there’s no specific diagnosis. 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 ER. If the pain is caused by appendicitis, a quick diagnosis is important because if it’s caught before the appendix ruptures, the surgeon often can remove the appendix with laparoscopic surgery. If the surgery isn’t done until after the appendix ruptures, the surgery becomes more complicated, and the recovery is longer.
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. As with appendicitis, removing gallstones early makes surgery simpler, with a faster recovery.
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.
If you have leg pain along with swelling of the leg, it could be a sign of a blood clot. The risk of a blood clot is higher after a long period of immobility, such as a long plane ride or after a person has been in bed for a while following surgery. The pain caused by a blood clot feels more like throbbing or aching. A blood clot is diagnosed with an ultrasound.
You will want to identify and treat a blood clot 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.