Common Medical Emergencies: Are You Prepared?

No one likes to imagine the possibility of having a medical emergency. But the fact is, emergencies can and do happen. And when they do, it’s vitally important that you are prepared and know what to do.

How To Be Prepared

Preventing a medical emergency from happening in the first place should always be your top priority. This includes things like:

  • maintaining a healthy lifestyle
  • staying up-to-date on your vaccinations
  • using safety gear
  • wearing a seatbelt
  • never drinking and driving

But even if you do everything right, there’s still a chance that something could happen. In case of an emergency, you need to be prepared to act quickly and correctly.

  • Keep medical information close at hand and up-to-date (family history information, personal health history, allergies, list of current medications, etc.)
  • Keep well-stocked first aid kits in your home and car, and know how to use the items in them.
  • Know the emergency numbers for your area (911 in the US) and teach them to your young children. Also, emergency contact numbers of family or close friends should be stored in your phone under ICE (In Case of Emergency).
  • Identify the closest hospital or medical facility to wherever you are.
  • Learn CPR and first aid to help you act quickly and correctly in an emergency.
  • Learn the warning signs of an emergency situation to respond immediately and effectively.

Warning Signs of a Medical Emergency

The American College of Emergency Physicians provides this list of emergency warning signs and symptoms:

  • Difficulty breathing, choking, or shortness of breath
  • Chest or upper abdominal pain or pressure lasting more than 2 minutes
  • Syncope, fainting, dizziness, weakness, or loss of consciousness
  • Vision changes
  • Difficulty speaking or communicating.
  • Confusion, unusual behavior, difficulty waking, or other changes in mental status
  • Any sudden or severe pains
  • Head or spinal injury, or any other injury that is life or limb-threatening
  • Deep or large wounds or uncontrolled bleeding that won’t stop
  • Severe or persistent vomiting or diarrhea
  • Coughing or vomiting blood
  • Suicidal or homicidal feelings
  • Unusual abdominal pain
  • Ingestion of a poisonous substance

For children and other vulnerable individuals, additional signs and symptoms may indicate a medical emergency, such as:

  • Significant and unusual changes in behavior (confusion, decreased responsiveness, excessive sleepiness, abnormal irritability, seizure, strange or withdrawn behavior)
  • Severe headache or vomiting, especially after a head injury
  • Inability to stand, or unsteady walking
  • Abnormal breathing
  • Blue, purple, or gray-colored skin or lips
  • Eating difficulties
  • Worsening pain
  • Fever along with behavior change, severe and sudden headache with mental changes, neck or back stiffness, or rashes

What To Do In An Emergency

Call an ambulance instead of driving someone to the hospital if the answer to any of these questions is “yes”:

  • Does their condition appear to be life-threatening?
  • Might it become life-threatening on the way to the hospital?
  • Could moving the person worsen their condition?
  • Does the situation require medical skills or equipment?
  • Would the delays of distance or traffic worsen the person’s condition?

When you call 911:

  • Speak calmly and clearly
  • Give the exact location (for example, 1234 Washington Street, in the upstairs bedroom), name, address, and phone number of the person in need.
  • Describe the situation and condition as best as you can
  • Do not hang up until the dispatcher says it’s ok to do so (they may still need more information)
  • Teach your children how to place an emergency call in case you are unable

While you wait for help to arrive:

  • Try to remain calm.
  • Follow the dispatcher’s instructions.
  • Stay with the person in need, listen to them, and be comforting and supportive.

Do not move the person unless they are in immediate danger and you have no other choice.