Dr. Roderick Claybrooks, 42, one of the just 1.7% of African American doctors who are spine surgeons says that you don’t always have to go to the ER when you have certain symptoms. The five most common reasons people head to the ER are:

1.Chest Pain

 2.Shortness of breath

3.Abdominal pain/vomiting


5. Musculoskeletal complaints

Some of these complaints may not require an ER visit, but a checkup, Claybrooks says.

Below, Dr. Claybrooks answers your most burning health questions. For more on his book series to help young people achieve their full potential, click over.

I am a female with occasional shooting pain across the upper part of my chest. Are heart attack symptoms different for women?

I have sharp, stabbing pain in my right side under the lower part of my rib cage. I also feel pressure on the right side of my chest between my breast and underarm. What could that be?

Chest pain due to heart attacks in women can be more subtle and is often overlooked because it doesn’t fit the typical description. Right-sided chest pain that shoots across is likely muscle pain or inflammation of the chest cartilage.

Good morning, Doc! I have asthma and went to the ER about 4 hrs ago and received steroids and IV and 1hr neb treatment for my asthma attack. Now I am feeling tight and wheezing again. Should I go back??


What’s a good diet for weight loss? Lean meats (turkey, fish and white-meat chicken), green vegetables and water. No carbohydrates and no sugar (no white breads, no white rice, no crackers).

Good morning, Dr.! I’ve been having this bad cough from the chest for a week and the last couple of days it’s been bad and today I’m vomiting mucus. If I go back into work today because it’s so cold, the cough gets worse from the air over my head. If the mucous is clear, you are probably getting to the end.

If the mucous has color to it, then its probably infected. If you have fever and chills along with it, you should see your doctor.

How do you know when you have diabetes?

You may not know at all without testing, but two common symptoms are constant thirst and having to urinate constantly.

I have a pain in my hip that goes down my leg. It comes and goes. Sometimes, I feel like I’m gonna fall. Should I go see the doctor about that?

You need to see an orthopedic surgeon.

How can I handle rotator cup issues without surgery?

Physical therapy.

Hi, Doctor. What causes your ankle to swell, cramp, and be painful to walk on?

It could possibly be a sprain. You need an X-ray.

What’s the feeling of water dripping inside your legs occasionally? It’s likely nerve irritation.

Doc, my arms and fingertips fall asleep often in my sleep. Sometimes my fingertips get tingly at random times. What could it be and what do I do?

Could be carpal tunnel or cubital tunnel (both are pinched nerves in the arm.) A hand surgeon can prescribe a brace for you.

Dr Claybrooks, I sometimes have pain in my left thumb is that a concern.

It could be arthritis or a pinched nerve in your wrist. If it doesn’t get better, get it checked out.

My fingertips get very cold and turn white and purple from time to time as if there isn’t any blood flowing to them. It even happens when I’m in a hot shower! What could be the cause of this? What kind of doctor should I see?

You need to see a rheumatologist.

Hey doc, is pelvic pain and constipation in early pregnancy normal?

The pelvic pain is not. The constipation could be diet-related. Mention the pelvic pain to your OB/GYN doc.

Doc! I’ve experienced chest pains like an elephant sitting on my chest but the ER doctor said it wasn’t a heart attack. Later I read that my pain could be attributed to anxiety attacks. Is this normal? I get these pains at least twice a year.

Chest pain is never normal. Mention it to your primary care doc.

I’ve had a sinus infection for about a week. I went to the doctor and have been taking Mucinex and antibiotics the doctor gave me. I’m also using a nasal rinse. I’m about to leave Friday on vacation was wondering if I should be doing anything else to help me. Seems to getting better except at night. I will be on a plane Friday. Thanks!

If it’s getting better, you are going in the right direction. You can take a decongestant at night time to sleep better. I haven’t had sex in 3 years.

I’m a 44-year-old woman. Does that harm the body?

Not having sex for some time does not do any harm.

How can a man get rid of a yeast infection that he got from his woman?

You need testing to make sure it’s a yeast infection and then whatever medication your doctor recommends.

Hey TJMS Family, Whats up Doc? I’m experiencing weight gain, a bloated stomach and little appetite. What do these symptoms indicate?

Sounds like something related to your gastrointestinal tract. You need a check up from your primary care doctor.

Doc, I’m having chest pains right in the center of my chest. Am I OK?

It’s likely muscular pain but any chest pain should be checked out.

Good morning. I have high blood pressure, but no insurance. I make just enough money not to be able to get any of the government special programs. I need medication for my pressure. I can’t get medication because I can’t afford to see a doctor to get a prescription what should I do?

Check the internet to see if there is a local health clinic where you can be seen for free or for a sliding scale. Call the hospital in your area; some have programs that can help low-income patients with visit fees. There are also prescription plans for low-income patients. Whatever you do, see a doctor, high blood pressure is too important to ignore.

I have swelling in my lower back, should I apply ice only or should I switch between ice & heat?

Use heat.

Dr. Claybrooks, If you are sick (vomiting food and blood for over a month) is it appropriate to continue to go the ER to get all the tests done to get a diagnosis? The primary care doctor does nothing but shove meds but gives no reason why the vomiting and loss of weight still exists.

You need to see a gastrointestinal doctor.

I keep getting a shooting pain on my left side by my heart. What’s that?

Could be muscle spasm or could be spasms of the arteries that supply the heart. Go see your primary care doctor and mention it.

What is the difference between emergency room care and urgent care centers? Which is best?

If you feel that it is minor, go to urgent care. If it feels serious, go to ER. If you’re not sure, go to ER. When I am sitting, I get dizzy/feel my head spinning. What is that a sign of? Possibly vertigo. You should have your primary care doctor check it out.

Can herpes be given to an unborn child?

Dr. Claybrooks was unsure on this, but according to several medical sites, only if you are in the midst of an outbreak during labor and delivery. Let your OB/GYN know that appropriate steps can be taken.

The top of my feet hurt. Does that mean anything?

Could be arthritis or joint pain.

What’s the best help for sciatic nerve pain?

Physical therapy and weight loss.

My dad is a diabetic and he has a bruise on his toe that didn’t/won’t go away. Not to mention his stool is black. But he won’t go to the doctor. How serious is this?

Very serious. The toe bruise means he could lose his toe. They may have to cut it off. Black stool means his intestines are bleeding. Please get him to an doctor or ER right away.

Doc, what causes a numbness and tingly feeling in hands, fingers and forearm?

Pinched nerve in neck or arm.

Doc, what can I take to help boost my metabolism? I’m about 25 pounds overweight.

You don’t need to boost your metabolism, you need to eat less and exercise more.

What could cause me to have so much pain in my upper right thigh? So much that I can’t turn over in my bed or when I get up from sitting I have to stop in my tracks. I’m at the point of falling because I can’t put any weight on it from the tightening feeling.

It could be a problem with your hip or your back. I work for Chrysler, and I’ve been having really bad lower back pain on my right side. When I bend over and try to re-stand I feel needle pricking pain. It’s not until I feel a pop in that same area that I’m able to stand straight up again.

Back pain is very common.It could be degenerative disc disease or a “slipped disc.”

Hey doc, I am 30 years old and have been on hemodialysis since I was 15. I have had two kidney transplants one when I was a year old I received from my mother and another at the age of 14. My question to you is smoking marijuana bad for me? When I come off the machine, it helps me feel better and helps me eat so my sugar and blood pressure doesn’t drop.

I am unaware of any marijuana research related to dialysis patients, though the active ingredient in marijuana does have documented medical uses for pain relief.

What are the main symptoms of the stroke? Slurred speech or inability to speak, weakness on one side of the body, and a deviated tongue (unable to stick the tongue out straight in the middle of the mouth.)

Dr. Claybrooks has written a series of books, The Black Student’s Guide To Success and the workbook companion is available now on  The series includes, “The Black Student’s Guide to Financial Success” and “The Black Parent’s Guide to Financial Success.”

Claybrooks was compelled to write his series of books after meeting so many patients in the emergency rooms of Detroit that were living beneath their potential and not maximizing their gifts. His goal is to decrease the high school dropout rate by increasing enrollment among financially-challenged youth and college bound prospects. Claybrooks wants to equip them with resources to aid them in not only finding money to attend school but showing them how to navigate a successful journey through life.

An example of some of the issues discussed in his books include the following:

* Why African Americans Trail Other Groups in this Country Socially, Academically and Economically

* How to Find a Mentor and Foster Relationships that will Contribute to Your Success

* Why it Does Matter How You Look and What You Wear

* How to Choose A Career

* How to Build Wealth

* Acting White

If Dr. Claybrooks had his way “Academic superstars would be as popular as ‘American Idol’ and as publicized as the Super Bowl. It pains me that many youth, especially African-American boys and girls, see entertainment or athletics as the only ticket to success.”

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