Both doctors say it's important to learn heart attack signs and understand them in context. "Everybody has jaw pain. You don't immediately run and say, 'I've got a heart attack,'" Shulman tells WebMD. He is an associate professor of internal medicine at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. "But if you're also sweating and you have some of these other symptoms -- shortness of breath and so forth -- then that's going to tip you off that there's something much more serious happening."
3. Tenderness and pain in the back of your lower leg, chest pain, shortness of breath, or coughing up blood.
These are symptoms of a potentially dangerous blood clot in your leg, especially if they come after you've been sitting for a long time, such as on an airplane or during a long car trip. These signs can also surface if you've been bedridden after surgery.
"Anybody is susceptible," Birge says. He adds that such blood clots are more common than most people and doctors realize.
Blood is more likely to pool in your legs when you're sitting or lying down for long periods of time, as opposed to standing and walking. If a blood clot forms in your leg as a result, your calf can feel swollen, painful, and tender to the touch. If you get sudden chest pain or shortness of breath, a piece of the blood clot may have broken off and traveled through the bloodstream to your lungs. This condition can be life-threatening, so get to an emergency room without delay if you have any of these symptoms.
4. Blood in the urine without accompanying pain.
Anytime you see blood in your urine, call your doctor promptly, even if you have no pain.
Kidney stones or a bladder or prostate infection are common causes of blood in the urine. But these problems are usually painful or uncomfortable, which sends people to the doctor promptly.
In contrast, when people see blood in their urine but feel no pain, some take a "wait and see" approach, especially if they just have one episode. "But you can't have this attitude," Shulman says. Lack of pain doesn't necessarily mean lack of seriousness.
Cancer of the kidney, ureter, bladder, or prostate can cause bleeding into the urinary tract; when these cancers are small enough to be curable, they may not cause pain. So don't dismiss this important sign because, according to Shulman and Birge, "blood in the urine may be the only clue for an early diagnosis."
5. Asthma symptoms that don't improve or get worse.
Asthma attacks are marked by wheezing or difficulty breathing. When an attack doesn't improve or worsens, a patient should get emergency care.
If an asthma attack is left untreated, it can lead to severe chest muscle fatigue and death, say Shulman and Birge. Some people with persistent asthma hesitate to go to the emergency room because they've gone so many times before, or they need someone to drive them because they're too short of breath. So instead of seeking care, "They try to hang in there," Birge says, even if they need higher doses of inhalants or have decreasing lung function measurements when using a device to measure how well they move air out of their lungs.