Most people either don’t know or won’t admit when a medical situation is a “true” emergency. Often a split-second decision can mean life, disability or death for an affected individual. In the case of many conditions — particularly with a stroke, heart attack, sudden cardiac arrest and blood loss — the time spent deciding whether to go to an emergency room or call 911 takes away precious moments that could be used for treatment.
When You Should Go To the Emergency Department
The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) provides the following warning signs that may indicate a medical emergency and signal when you should proceed to the nearest Emergency Department.
- Difficulty breathing, shortness of breath
- Chest or upper abdominal pain or pressure
- Fainting, sudden dizziness, weakness
- Changes in vision
- Confusion or changes in mental status
- Any sudden or severe pain
- Uncontrolled bleeding
- Severe or persistent vomiting or diarrhea
- Coughing or vomiting blood
- Suicidal feelings
- Difficulty speaking
- Shortness of breath
- Unusual abdominal pain
The ACEP also notes that children have unique medical problems and may display different symptoms than adults. Symptoms that are serious for a child may not be as serious for an adult. Children may also be unable to communicate their condition, which means an adult will have to interpret the behavior. Always get immediate medical attention if you think your child is having a medical emergency.
When You Should Call 911
Many times it’s very clear that an ambulance needs to be called, such as in the case of an auto accident or heart attack. But other times, when symptoms are vague, those in need may be reluctant to dial 911. We often hear, “We didn’t think it was necessary to call an ambulance” or “We didn’t want to bother them.” When in doubt, play it safe and call the emergency experts.
Onondaga County’s Department of Emergency Management offers these tips for calling 911:
- Call any time a victim’s condition is life threatening or could worsen and become life threatening;
- Call any time moving a victim could cause further injury;
- Call anytime when traveling to a hospital will take too long without the support of an onboard paramedic and an emergency response vehicle.