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Recognizing medical emergencies

Alternative Names

Medical emergencies - how to recognize them

Information

According to the American College of Emergency Physicians, the following are warning signs of a medical emergency:

BE PREPARED

  • 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 police
    • Poison control center
    • Ambulance center
    • Your doctors' phone numbers
    • Contact numbers for neighbors or nearby friends or relatives.
    • 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 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. Persons 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

References

Blackwell, TH. Emergency Medical Services. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2009: chap 190.

Updated: 1/1/2013

Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.


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