Ask Dr. Haroon Ferhut: Is this an emergency?

“I’m serious! As serious as a heart attack!” That old expression may seem amusing, but not if you’re experiencing symptoms that could be heart related. How do you know when to head into the Emergency Room? When should you just wait for an appointment with your regular physician?

Dr. Haroon Ferhut, Emergency Room physician at Ringgold County Hospital, explains. “Chest pain that feels heavy, like there is someone sitting on your chest is most concerning. If you’re feeling that way, you should go immediately to the ER.” He continued, “You may not even have chest pain. Sometimes shortness of breath can be heart related. It could be COPD or asthma, but if the sensation is new to you, come in and get checked out.” Often patients arrive at the ER thinking they’re having a heart attack when they’re actually experiencing thoracic pain. “There’s a tiny bit of fluid beneath the chest wall and on your lungs,” said Dr. Ferhut. “When a patient has a little bit of inflammation, it can cause pinpoint pain that’s often described as sharp, or stabbing. It understandably provokes anxiety because people feel as if they’re having a heart attack. I’ve seen it in all ages, from young children to geriatric patients. It can be scary. But the treatment is simple ibuprofen.”

There are some symptoms that are worth an Emergency Room trip, he said. “If you’re feeling sweaty, and have shortness of breath, especially if you’re feeling something that hasn’t happened before, come to the ER. Also, if you have a cough and you’re coughing up blood, even if it’s not that much, you need to come in. We’re always worried about blood clots. If you have cancer, or have recently had surgery, there’s an increased risk.”

Another symptom that should send you to the Emergency Room is one-sided swelling in the lower leg or thigh. It could be a sign of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) which is a blood clot that forms deep in a vein. The fear is that the clot could break loose and cause a serious problem in the lung, called a pulmonary embolism.

Unnecessary visits to the Emergency Room can be stressful and expensive. There are many aches and pains that can be treated by a primary care doctor or nurse practitioner. “Anything that is skeletomuscular can wait,” said Dr. Ferhut. “If you press on the chest wall where it hurts, and it feels better or worse, hang at home and see your regular doctor.” He adds that if you have an upper respiratory infection and the pain gets worse with coughing, it’s not likely your heart. “If you don’t have a high fever, you can see your doctor in the clinic” Of course, the best way to stay out of the Emergency Room is to take care of your health, and your heart, every day. Dr. Ferhut’s advice is practical and relatable – even if it’s something we’ve all heard before. “If you smoke, quit. Or at least decrease the amount you smoke. Get daily exercise. Eat a heart healthy diet. And if you’re on cholesterol medications, take them. They really work!”