No. 1: Worst Headache of Your Life
We have all heard someone say this is a horrible headache. But, if you are experiencing a headache that you could classify as the Worse Headache of Your Life – then get medical attention immediately. Sharon Brangman, MD, FACP, spokeswoman for the American Geriatrics Society, tells WebMD that when someone says they have the worst headache of their life, “what we learned in medical training was that was a classic sign of a brain aneurysm. Go immediately to the ER.”
No. 2: Pain or Discomfort in the Chest, Throat, Jaw, Shoulder, Arm, or Abdomen and No. 3: Pain in Lower Back or Between Shoulder Blades
It’s typical, not atypical for women to have upper back pain as an indication of a heart attack. The pain can come even when you can’t think about anything that did to cause the pain. Chest pain could be pneumonia or a heart attack. But be aware that heart conditions typically appear as discomfort, not pain. “Don’t wait for pain,” says cardiologist Jerome Cohen, MD. “Heart patients talk about pressure.
The discomfort associated with heart disease could also be in the upper chest, throat, jaw, left shoulder or arm, or abdomen and might be accompanied by nausea. “I’m not too much worried about the 18-year-old, but if a person has unexplained, persistent discomfort and knows they’re high risk, they shouldn’t wait,” says Cohen. “Too often people delay because they misinterpret it as [heartburn] or GI distress. Call 911 or get to an emergency room or physician’s office. If it turns out to be something else, that’s great.”
“A woman’s discomfort signs can be more subtle,” says Cohen, who is director of preventive cardiology at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. “Heart disease can masquerade as GI symptoms, such as bloating, GI distress, or discomfort in the abdomen. It’s also associated with feeling tired. Risk for heart disease increases dramatically after menopause. It kills more women than men even though men are at higher risk at any age. Women and their physicians need to be on their toes.”
Pain between the shoulder blades again is typical for women experiencing pre-heart attack symptoms. Sure it could be arthritis, but you must realize the other possibilities that include a heart attack or abdominal problems. “One danger is aortic dissection, which can appear as either a nagging or sudden pain. People who are at risk have conditions that can change the integrity of the vessel wall. These would include high blood pressure, a history of circulation problems, smoking, and diabetes.”
No. 4: Severe Abdominal Pain
Still have your appendix? Don’t flirt with the possibility of a rupture. Gallbladder and pancreas problems, stomach ulcers, and intestinal blockages are some other possible causes of abdominal pain that need attention.
No 5: Vague, Combined, or Medically Unexplained Pains
“Various painful, physical symptoms are common in depression,” says psychiatrist Thomas Wise, MD. “Patients will have vague complaints of headaches, abdominal pain, or limb pain, sometimes in combination.”
Because the pain might be chronic and not terribly debilitating, depressed people, their families, and health care professionals might dismiss the symptoms. “Furthermore, the more depressed you are, the more difficulty you have describing your feelings,” says Wise, who is the psychiatry department chairman at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Fairfax, Va. “All of this can lead the clinician astray.”
Other symptoms must be present before a diagnosis of depression can be made. “Get help when you’ve lost interest in activities, you’re unable to work or think effectively, and you can’t get along with people,” he says. “And don’t suffer silently when you’re hurting.”