Skip navigation

Recognizing medical emergencies

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

Alternative Names

Medical emergencies - how to recognize them

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.

Update Date: 1/1/2013

Updated by: 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.

A.D.A.M Quality Logo

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. Copyright 1997-2014, A.D.A.M., Inc. Duplication for commercial use must be authorized in writing by ADAM Health Solutions.

A.D.A.M Logo