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Minor health issue or major emergency?

If you have chest pain or a stomachache, how do you know if it’s indigestion, stress or something more serious? Here’s a quick guide for when to seek medical attention. Remember, it’s always better to be safe than sorry, so if you are concerned, call your doctor or 9-1-1.

Appendicitis vs. stomachache

If you have abdominal pain, you may wonder if you have appendicitis. Pain in your belly can be caused by many conditions, such as a food sensitivity, stress or anxiety. However, if you have a stomachache along with the following symptoms, it’s time to go to the emergency department or call 9-1-1:

  • Dull pain near your bellybutton or the upper abdomen that becomes more severe as it moves toward the lower right abdomen

  • Difficulty passing gas

  • Fever of 99 to 102 degrees

  • Loss of appetite

  • Swelling in the abdominal area

Even if you don’t have these symptoms, see your doctor if you have recurring abdominal pain. He or she can rule out a more serious condition.

Heart attack vs. heartburn

Both heartburn and a heart attack can cause chest discomfort. Heart attack symptoms can vary from person to person, but the more symptoms you have, the more likely it is that you are having a heart attack. Call 9-1-1 right away if you have:

  • Persistent chest discomfort or pain, particularly in the left side or center of your chest, that lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and then returns

  • Discomfort in other areas of the body, such as in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach

  • Shortness of breath

  • Cold sweat

  • Nausea

  • Lightheadedness

  • Paleness

  • Feeling more tired than usual for no reason (a more common heart attack symptom in women)

  • An impending sense of “doom”

  • Irregular or rapid heartbeat

You may have heartburn if you have the following symptoms:

  • A burning feeling in your chest and upper abdomen

  • Discomfort in your food pipe that begins after you eat or while you are lying in bed, particularly if you ate less than two hours before going to sleep

  • Discomfort that improves when you take antacids

  • Regurgitation, or your stomach contents coming back up into your throat

  • A sour or unpleasant taste in your mouth, especially when lying down

If you aren’t sure, call 9-1-1 or your doctor to be on the safe side.

Heart arrhythmia vs. anxiety

Symptoms of a heart arrhythmia, or heart rhythm disorder, like atrial fibrillation can be nearly identical to those of a panic attack or anxiety. Symptoms include:

  • A racing heartbeat or fluttering feeling in the chest

  • Breathlessness

  • Fatigue

If you think you may have atrial fibrillation or anxiety, talk to your doctor. He or she can determine a diagnosis to correctly treat and manage your symptoms.

The bottom line: Go with your gut (no pun intended) and call 9-1-1 or your physician if something doesn’t feel right. It’s best to err on the side of caution.

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