Recognizing medical emergencies
Medical emergencies - how to recognize them
According to the American College of Emergency Physicians, the following are warning signs of a medical emergency:
- Bleeding that will not stop
- Breathing problems (difficulty breathing, shortness of breath)
- Change in mental status (such as unusual behavior, confusion, difficulty arousing)
- Chest pain
- Coughing up or vomiting blood
- Fainting or loss of consciousness
- Feeling of committing suicide or murder
- Head or spine injury
- Severe or persistent vomiting
- Sudden injury due to a motor vehicle accident, burns or smoke inhalation, near drowning, deep or large wound, etc.
- Sudden, severe pain anywhere in the body
- Sudden dizziness, weakness, or change in vision
- Swallowing a poisonous substance
- Upper abdominal pain or pressure
- Determine the location and quickest route to the nearest emergency department before an emergency happens.
- Keep emergency phone numbers posted by the phone. Everyone in your household, including children, should know when and how to call these numbers. These numbers include: fire department, police department, poison control center, ambulance center, your doctors' phone numbers, contact numbers of neighbors or nearby friends or relatives, and work phone numbers.
- Know at which hospital(s) your doctor practices and, if practical, go there in an emergency.
- Wear a medical identification tag if you have a chronic condition or look for one on a person who has any of the symptoms mentioned.
- Get a personal emergency response system if you are elderly, especially if you live alone.
WHAT TO DO IF SOMEONE NEEDS HELP
- Remain calm, and call your local emergency number (such as 911).
- Start CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) or rescue breathing, if necessary and if you know the proper technique.
- Place a semiconscious or unconscious person in the recovery position until the ambulance arrives. DO NOT move the person, however, if there has been or may have been a neck injury.
Upon arriving at an emergency room, the person will be immediately evaluated. Life- or limb-threatening conditions will be treated first. People with conditions that are not life- or limb-threatening may have to wait.
CALL YOUR LOCAL EMERGENCY NUMBER (SUCH AS 911) IF:
- The person's condition is life-threatening (for example, the person is having a heart attack or severe allergic reaction)
- The person's condition could become life-threatening on the way to the hospital
- Moving the person could cause further injury (for example, in case of a neck injury or motor vehicle accident)
- The person needs the skills or equipment of paramedics
- Traffic conditions or distance might cause a delay in getting the person to the hospital
Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 190.
Reviewed By: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, emergency medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.