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Not sure if it’s an emergency?

Sometimes it’s just not clear whether a situation is life threatening. Does chest pain mean heartburn or heart attack? Is abdominal pain a sign of stomachache or ulcers? Symptoms are often misleading, and knowing what to can be overwhelming. When in doubt, it’s best to err on the side of caution and go to Urgent Care, the Emergency Room or call 911 for an ambulance. However, there are certain tell–tale signs that might help in differentiating between serious and mild health complications. Take a look at a few commonly misleading symptoms.

Chest Pain

Heart attacks don’t always begin the way they do in movies—a sudden chest spasm, searing pain, a squeeze or crush of the upper abdomen. In fact, many heart attacks are completely asymptomatic, developing slowly and causing only slight discomfort. Chest pain can be caused by a variety of factors, including asthma, acid reflux (heartburn), muscular strain and anxiety. In these non–life threatening situations, the pain is typically dull, rather than sharp or acute, and lasts only temporarily. Signs that something more serious might be going include pain that is sharp, sudden, lasts over a day, radiates to the arm or jaw and leaves you exhausted and short of breath. If you feel dizzy, nauseous or find it difficult to swallow, then you should seek emergency assistance.

Abdominal Pain

There are many causes for abdominal pain, most of which do not lead to emergencies. Indigestion, menstrual cramps and gas are just a few examples. On the other hand, there are emergency situations like appendicitis and hernia that can lead to serious health complications, including death. The difference? Again, keep an eye out for the type of pain you’re experiencing: dull or sharp, temporary or long lasting, isolated or associated with other symptoms. If you experience sharp, persistent pain that leads to vomiting, fever, dehydration, painful urination, blood in the stool, fatigue or shortness of breath, then it’s likely an emergency. Also keep in mind that a new medication, a new diet, an injury or pregnancy can lead to abdominal pain as well.


Headaches are extremely common, and we tend to ignore them when the symptoms are mild and temporary. But what about a persistent, painful headache? The Mayo Clinic defines a chronic headache as one that occurs at least 15 days per month, and a long-lasting headache as one that lasts over four hours. Common causes for such headaches include migraine, head injury, seizure, sinus infection and a history of chronic headaches. Some people are also just more susceptible toward having headaches, though these are not typically considered emergencies unless the pain is chronic and severe. Migraines are relatively common and are associated with nausea and heightened sensitivity to external stimuli such as sound and light. Seek immediate emergency care when pain is severe and associated with other symptoms such as blurred vision, extreme dizziness, convulsions or difficulty breathing or speaking. Most importantly, see a doctor after any head injury.

Still not Sure?

It’s always best to err on the side of caution. If you think you might be experiencing a medical emergency, call an ambulance. Otherwise, Urgent Care clinics like Five Star Urgent Care provide an ER alternative for non-life threatening ailments and injuries when your doctor is unavailable.

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