How to know when to seek emergency medical care

There are times when you aren’t feeling well and you are not sure why or what is the cause of your distress. As your mind runs through a preliminary check list of common discomforts you try to determine the cause on your own. Fortunately, most minor episodes of physical distress are self limiting. They often do run a short course and resolve on their own.

However, there are times when a sudden onset of discomfort feels more serious because it is new and different then you have ever experienced in the past. It is wise to acknowledge the possibility that you are having a more serious health event and it is best to trust your intuition. When contacting your physician’s office, be specific as to what kind of distress you are having, this is a necessary step in office triage.

Here is an overview of steps to help you to be proactive in the pursuit of emergent care for yourself or your family when needed.


Step 1

Difficulty in breathing

Any episode of respiratory distress needs immediate intervention at your closest emergency room. This may be best expedited by a 911 call for medical assistance with rescue squad. Among the situations that may be the cause of respiratory distress includes an obstructed airway, anaphylactic allergic reactions, heart attack or rhythm abnormality, pneumonia, asthma or acute distress related to chronic lung disease.

Step 2

Chest pain

Chest pain can sometimes be a fleeting distress related to a brief episode of indigestion. However, it can also be related to something more serious, a pending event such as a heart attack. If you have a family history of heart disease. It is critical for everyone to be more safe then sorry .Pain in heart disease means that the heart is not getting enough oxygen. It is wise not to ignore this type of pain,especially if it extends to sensations in the jaw or left arm. Go to a hospital emergency room for an evaluation. Immediate treatment protocols are in place in hospitals and the use of minimally invasive procedures along with quality cardiac care.

Step 3


Bleeding that is not responding to pressure to the site, a woman who is pregnant with vaginal bleeding or a sudden gastrointestinal crisis with rectal bleeding or vomiting blood is an emergency. Call 911 or go to the closest emergency room.

Step 4

Abdominal pain

Any abdominal pain or if abdominal distention is present, is considered an emergency situation. This requires a diagnostic evaluation by your doctor or in a hospital emergency room. Nausea, vomiting ,diarrhea or in some cases constipation may accompany your pain. You may or may not have a fever. Be sure to pass on this information to your doctor.

Abdominal pain that is mild, but new, still needs a diagnostic evauation by your doctor. Call and schedule an appointment .

Step 5

Sudden onset of dizziness.

Dizziness may have a simple explanation like a pending brief fainting episode,an inner ear disorder or even the flu. However, there are times when this precedes other more serious events such as a cardiac arrhythmias, or a cerebral vascular accident. Alert other support people to assist in observation. If there are mental staus changes or confusion. proceed with 911 call for rescue squad or transport to emergency room in the community.

Step 6

Severe headache or a change in mental status

Different then the common headache, the sudden severe headache, one that has had a rapid onset, is suspicious and sends up a red flag to the possibility of a cerebral aneurysm, or a cerebral vascular accident (CVA) a stroke. It is critical to see your physician as soon as possible, or go to hospital emergency room for a full assessment and monitoring.

Step 7

Numbness, tingling ,or speech or vision changes.

Neurological changes in the body such as a pending CVA (cerebral vascular accident), known to many as a stroke, are often accompanied with numbness or a tingling sensation of the extremities. Speech may be slurred and vision may be altered. Prompt medical care is essential to optimum outcome. Call 911 for transport to emergency room of closest hospital.

Step 8


Sepsis is very subtle. and very easy to miss. Often it can be a complication of a bacterial, viral, or parasitic illness. It can even occur during or after a person has been treated with antibiotics. Sepsis is a syndrome, basically the immune system has gone into «overdrive» in its reaction to an infection. It sometimes appears as if the ill person was getting well, maybe they no longer have a fever. However, their skin may feel clammy, their heart rate and breathing is rapid, and blood pressure extremely low. Urine output may be little or none at all. This may also include prolonged nausea, vomiting or reduced mental alertness. If someone looks ill, in this care they are seriously ill and needs immediate hospital care to prevent organ failure. Call 911 for rescue squad or go to closest hospital emergency room.

Things Needed
• An awareness of the health care system and how it works.
• Patient education related to a known illness and its management.
• Wear an ID bracelet to alert others of allergies and information on health conditions.
• Carry on your possession information on any illness or allergies or medications you take, including prosthetics,cardiac stents,or implants. Your physician’s name and number and the name and number of your most immediate family.

Tips & Warnings
• Pain is the universal sign that alerts us of physiological distress.
• Call 911 for rescue squad or go directly to a hospital emergency room : For chest pain, shortness of breath, bleeding ,loss of consciousness,sudden dizziness, numbness, slurred speech, vision changes or the sudden onset of a severe headache.
• Traumatic injuries related to accidents or falls needs a physician’s assessment. This is critical when it involves a head injury, or trauma to the eye.
• Be alert to anaphylactic allergic reactions to foods, drugs, insect stings, or other causes of a severe allergic life threatening response. There may be facial redness, swelling, or difficulty with swallowing that can rapidly progress to acute respiratory and cardiac compromise. Call 911. If possible ascertain whether the person has an Epi pen { epinephrine} for immediate use.
• For care of a chronic or ongoing health problem contact your doctor.
• Br proactive in seeking out your own care or that of your family.


Comment: 4
    Corbyn  17.12.2015 20:06

    Thank you for the feedback Gulrukh…little things mean a lot. :)

    Cherriman  25.01.2016 22:13

    Excellent Guide, Olivia. Very informative and helpful. I noticed a little typo: a physicians assessment should have an apostrophe. Best regards

    Denis  28.02.2016 00:47

    Thank you for the feedback Gulrukh…little things mean a lot. :)

    Castro  18.03.2016 22:55

    Excellent Guide, Olivia. Very informative and helpful. I noticed a little typo: a physicians assessment should have an apostrophe. Best regards

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