'Am I Dying?!': New Book Helps You Figure Out When A Common Symptom Is Serious

Thursday, December 27th 2018, 4:03 pm
By: News 9

It can be hard to tell when your physical symptoms are a sign of something serious. In a new book, "Am I Dying?!: A Complete Guide to Your Symptoms--and What to Do Next," cardiologists Christopher Kelly and Marc Eisenberg break down when to relax, call your doctor or go to the ER.

"If you look up any symptom online, within a few seconds you're going to convince yourself that you have cancer, you're having a heart attack, that death is going to happen any second now," Kelly said. "Despite the very loud title, most of the time in this book we offer people reassurance and help them understand that their symptoms are probably not a big deal."

Kelly and Eisenberg joined "CBS This Morning" to discuss some of the most common symptoms people experience, including chest pain, fatigue, sore throat and back pain. Here is what they say about those symptoms -- and what to do about them: 

Chest pain

Take a chill pill: If chest pain gets worse when you're moving your arm.

Make an appointment: If pain occurs after eating or lying down.

Get to the ER: If you feel constant pressure on your chest -- like someone sitting on your chest -- that doesn't go away after a few minutes or is spreading to your neck and arms. Shortness of breath.

"When most people have chest pain they think they're having a heart attack … but there's a lot of causes of chest pain that aren't a heart attack," Eisenberg said. "So for example, if you're getting a jump on your New Year's resolution going to the gym more often and you pull a muscle in your chest, if you move your body around or raise your arm and that causes chest pain, there's probably nothing to worry about." 

Sore throat

Take a chill pill: If your throat is just sore when you wake up, is accompanied by cough and runny nose, or occurs during dry, wintry weather.

Make an appointment: If you see white patches on your tonsils, mouth or throat that could mean you have strep.

Get to the ER: If you have difficulty swallowing or change in voice, high fever and lightheadedness

"A lot of people wake up every morning with a sore throat. That could be dry air and you need a humidifier ... but if you take a picture of the inside, your tonsils, and you see white spots, that could be strep, and then you need to make a doctor's appointment," Eisenberg said.

Back pain

Take a chill pill: If you have less than one month of symptoms, it doesn't interfere with your life, or if it goes away with pain medicine.  

Make an appointment: If you're experiencing a burning sensation on one side of your back. That could be a sign of shingles. You should also see a doctor if you're experiencing pain with urination.

Get to the ER: If you experience a sudden loss of strength or sensation in one of your legs.

"If you have back pain and you have a rather quick loss of strength or sensation in one of your legs, that's actually an emergency," Kelly said. "You need to go to the ER immediately for that. That could indicate that the nerves in your back or the spinal cord are compromised by whatever is causing your back pain."

It's also worth noting that women sometimes experience back pain or other symptoms, rather than traditional chest pain, when having a heart attack.


Take a chill pill: If you are on an extreme diet, drank alcohol the night before, or are on a new medication. Talk to your doctor before stopping the new medication.  

Make an appointment: If you're also feeling depressed, believe it's linked to snoring, or if you're also gaining weight.

Get to the ER: If you're feeling confused.

"It could be a very serious sign if you're fatigued or tired all day and you're urinating a lot. You could actually have diabetes. Also, if you're very tired and you're also gaining weight and have constipation and you're cold and it's the middle of summer, you could have a thyroid abnormality and you need to go to the doctor and get it checked out," Eisenberg said.

Eisenberg said they hope their book helps people who are uninsured, underinsured, or worried about how much money an ER or doctor visit might cost.

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