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It's probably not cause for worry if...
  • You feel a burning pain after meals or when lying down, and it's accompanied by belching, bloating, or an acid taste. These are all symptoms of heartburn. If you get it only occasionally, over-the-counter antacids should make you feel better.
Call your doctor when....
  • Heartburn recurs frequently. This is a sign that you could have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
  • The pain occurs after you exert yourself or when you're angry, and goes away within 20 minutes when you stop to rest. You may have angina—chest pains caused by coronary artery disease.
  • You're short of breath, you're coughing a lot, you've developed a fever, your phlegm is yellow or green, or the pain lasts more than three days. Although some of these symptoms could indicate only a pulled chest muscle, you might have pneumonia.
  • The pain is limited to one side, and you recently had a severe cough or trauma to the chest area, such as surgery or an injury. Again, you may have pulled a muscle or even fractured a rib, so contact your physician if symptoms last longer than two days.
Go to an emergency room when...
  • The pain is severe, crushing, squeezing, or pressing, and is accompanied by dizziness, sweating, shortness of breath, or pain or tingling in the jaw, neck, or arms. These are all signs of a heart attack. Call 911. Then chew and swallow an aspirin, and drink a glass of water—this thins the blood, helping to get more of it to the heart.
  • You feel short of breath or the pain gets worse when you inhale. You could have a collapsed lung, or a blood clot that's traveled to the lung—this most often occurs after you've been confined to a bed or seat (car, bus, train, or plane) for many hours.
From Self-Diagnosis 101

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