by Jess Jewett, DO, medical director, Cache Valley HospitalEmergency Care

Medical emergencies are scary and stressful, but educating yourself ahead of time and knowing what to do can help you handle emergency situations more calmly and effectively.

Many emergency situations are time sensitive and delayed treatment can lead to more serious consequences, so it is important to learn how to recognize the signs of a medical emergency.

Although the following warning signs and symptoms of medical emergencies are not comprehensive, here are five examples of situations where it is important to seek immediate emergency medical care:

STROKE: A stroke is a medical emergency. Quick treatment is needed. Call 911 and seek urgent medical care at the first signs of a stroke. An easy way to remember the sudden signs of a stroke is F.A.S.T.:

  • Face Drooping: Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the person’s smile uneven?
  • Arm Weakness: Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • Speech Difficulty: Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or is it hard to understand him or her?
  • Time to Call 911: If someone shows any of these symptoms, even if they go away, call 911 and get them to the emergency room immediately. It is important to take note of the time the symptoms first occurred.

CHEST PAIN: Heart attacks are not a rare occurrence. Each year about 1.2 million people in the United States have heart attacks, and many of them die, according to the National Institutes of Heath. If you think you, or someone you care for, is having a heart attack it is ALWAYS an emergency. Don’t wait to see if it passes. Call 911 if you have chest pain that is crushing or squeezing and comes with any of the following symptoms:

  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pain that spreads from the chest to the neck, jaw or one or both shoulders or arms
  • Dizziness or light headedness
  • Fast or irregular pulse
  • Signs of shock (such as severe weakness or inability to stand or walk)

CONCUSSION: Although there is no single, accepted definition of a concussion, it is commonly described as a blow or jolt to the head that disrupts the function of the brain. The following symptoms of a concussion may prompt a trip to the emergency room:

  • Loss of consciousness, even if only briefly
  • Any period of amnesia, or loss of memory for the event
  • Feeling dazed or confused
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Seizure

POISONING: Call poison control if you have any question or concern regarding a minor ingestion or inhalation of a substance. They can tell you if you need to go to the emergency room or not. If there are concerning symptoms, call 911 first thing.

INFLUENZA: The flu can most often be treated at home or under the care of your primary provider. However, patients with the following concerning symptoms should be seen in the emergency room:

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish skin color
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Not waking up or interacting
  • A child being so irritable that they don’t want to be held
  • Flu-like symptoms that improve, but then return with a fever and worse cough
  • Fever with a rash

In addition to the situations listed above, get emergency medical help right away for an infant who has any of these symptoms:

  • Unable to eat
  • Has trouble breathing
  • Has no tears when crying
  • Significantly fewer wet diapers
Adults should receive emergency care if they have:
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting

Individuals can also learn to recognize and act on emergency warning signs by taking a first aid class and learning CPR.