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When to call your doctor or go to the emergency room

Aches and pains are a part of everyday life, especially as one ages. Not wanting to be labeled a hypochondriac might cause you to brush off pain and “tough it out,” or self-diagnose and self-medicate. For minor aches and pains, which you can identify as the price you’ve paid for recent overexertion, that may be appropriate, but there are instances when pain is your body’s way of signaling you that something could be seriously wrong.

CBS news Early Show featured Dr. Mallika Marshall giving viewers a rundown on pains that should never be ignored or discounted.

Red flag pains that require a trip to the emergency room or a call to 911:

Chest/shoulder pain

Pain in the chest, shoulder, left arm, neck or jaw might be an indication of an impending heart attack. Many who have already had a heart attack describe the pain as pressure, more than pain. If you develop these symptoms and have risk factors for heart disease, or are over 40, call your doctor or 911. If you are indeed experiencing heart distress, the sooner help arrives, the better.

Pain in mid-back

Sudden or severe pain in the upper back between the shoulder blades could be caused by arthritis, but might also indicate blood trapped in a tear in the main artery of the body, the aorta. This is a life threatening occurrence most commonly experienced by persons with high blood pressure or heart disease. Call your doctor immediately and follow his instructions about whether to call 911 or go to the emergency room.

Abdominal pain

Pain in the abdomen could be signaling appendicitis or a ruptured appendix. There could also be gall bladder issues, problems with the pancreas or an ulcer. In all cases, a trip to the emergency room is in order. If the pain is so severe as to inhibit walking, call 911 for immediate assistance.

Calf pain

Pain in the calf of the leg might be a symptom of a blood clot or deep vein thrombosis, especially if the pain is accompanied by redness or the leg is hot to the touch. This is life threatening as the blood clot could break off and travel to the lungs. Those at risk for blood clots include pregnant women, persons who recently underwent surgery, bedridden patients and travelers who have been sitting in a cramped position for extended periods of time.

Feet or leg pain

Pain or tingling in the feet or legs could be nerve damage caused by diabetes. Other causes could be injury, inflammatory conditions such as Lupus or vitamin deficiencies. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing burning sensations in the feet or any type of leg pain that cannot be attributed to an obvious injury.

Learn the procedure for calling 911 and do not hesitate to do so. Pain should never be ignored. Pain is your body sending the message that something is wrong. Pain left unattended could result in a more serious medical problem that might even be life threatening. It is always better to be safe than to be sorry.

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