For the media

Don’t wait to tell your doctor about these symptoms

By The Health News Team | June 4, 2020
Dr. Kenneth Roth, president of SCMG

Dr. Kenneth Roth, president of Sharp Community Medical Group, talks with Sharp CEO Chris Howard and Dr. Gayle Howard.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on local emergency rooms. Hospital admissions are down 40%, and with no sports and less traffic, injuries are down as well. However, serious events such as heart attack and stroke don’t wait for pandemics to end, and doctors worry that people are dismissing serious health symptoms.

Dr. Kenneth Roth, president of Sharp Community Medical Group, addresses when to visit the emergency room (ER) and why some symptoms could mean a trip to a medical facility is needed — or at least a call to your doctor.

He wants the community to know that the ER, also known as the emergency department (ED), is a safe place to get needed care. “Patients right now are intimidated or afraid to go to the ED. If that is the case, always know that your access to care is what matters most to your primary care doctor,” Dr. Roth says.

He adds, “Your primary care doctor knows your background and how you view your own health. With a phone call, your doctor can assess the severity of your illness and appropriately triage you, so you go where you’ll get the best treatment.”

The right level of care is important. Clinics are an appropriate choice for minor ailments such as ear infections or muscle sprains. Urgent care centers are for concerns that are more serious or that may need X-rays. An ER visit is for life- or limb-threatening concerns such as heart attack, stroke, severe abdominal pain or mental health emergencies.

Some mild symptoms that might be set aside could be an indicator of a more serious situation. Dr. Roth suggests to always consider the most conservative remedy first, adding, “If your pain doesn’t get better with over-the-counter medications and rest, call your primary care doctor.”

Symptoms that could indicate a serious health concern
Dr. Roth says these common symptoms could indicate a more serious condition.

Acute back pain — While this can be as simple as a pulled muscle or muscle strain, back pain can also mean a herniated disc or even breast, lung or primary bone cancer.

Abdominal pain — Belly pain is a common symptom for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which can take the form of constipation or diarrhea, or even a muscle sprain. But if there is a change in bowel habits or blood in the stool, Dr. Roth advises that this is something more serious, and if you have abdominal pain with weight loss, he urges you to call your doctor.

Gas — This may also feel like a sharp chest pain, but once the gas is expelled, the pain and pressure should go away. However, it might be something much more serious: a heart attack. If you are sweaty or dizzy and weak with chest pain, this is very serious, Dr. Roth warns. Other heart attack symptoms include heaviness on the chest, especially the left side that can radiate to the left shoulder and even the left jaw. Dr. Roth cautions that if you’ve never experienced these symptoms before, have someone take you to the ER — don’t drive yourself.

Know the signs of stroke and act quickly
Symptoms of a stroke include the sudden onset of limb weakness, an inability to coordinate, sudden loss of speech or difficulty swallowing. Dr. Roth says you may feel like you are choking when you to try swallow.

The most important thing to know about stroke symptoms is that if you think you are having a stroke, call 911 and go to the nearest ER right away. Time is brain and if treated quickly enough, a procedure can help open up a patient’s blocked artery and prevent permanent brain damage.

Shortness of breath can accompany all of the above conditions, Dr. Roth explains, but it can also mean anemia, pneumonia or heart failure. And it’s smart to call your doctor if there is no reason for your shortness of breath.

The best way to avoid the ER is to work with your primary care doctor to manage your health. An annual visit will include, at the least, a physical exam and blood tests, which can help check the health of your kidneys and heart, your cholesterol levels and other things.

“Having a good relationship with your primary care doctor is important,” says Dr. Roth. “A partnership with your primary care doctor can help you maintain your optimal health.”

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