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EMERGENCY! Or is it?
Anytime you have these symptoms:
When acute illnesses such as fever or flu turn serious.

Avoiding unnecessary ER visits
Avoiding unnecessary ER visits

These steps can streamline your healthcare decision making—especially when you’re trying to assess a possible medical emergency:

  • See a doctor when you’re well. When a problem arises, you’ll have someone to call for medical advice before panicking.
  • Ask your doctor about symptoms for which you should be especially alert. Your family history or personal health history may place you at higher risk for particular medical problems. Know when to call an ambulance and make sure your family knows, too. For example, if you have high blood pressure, learn which symptoms may signal a stroke or a heart attack. Likewise, if you have diabetes, be familiar with warning signs of dangerously low or high blood sugar levels. If you take medications, such as digoxin, know how to recognize symptoms of toxicity, and so forth.
  • A gram of prevention is worth a kilo of cure. Get your immunizations and attend to minor health problems as they arise. In that way, for example, bronchitis won’t develop into life-threatening pneumonia or strep throat into rheumatic fever.

Be prepared
Be prepared

  1. Know basic choking rescue techniques, such as the Heimlich maneuver.
  2. Take a CPR class.
  3. Cover burns with cool (not cold) wet cloths. Never apply home remedies (butter, ice, petroleum jelly). Never break blisters or remove burned skin.
  4. Never move a person with a back or neck injury.
  5. Know how to stop a wound from bleeding. (A first-aid class can help.)
  6. Post emergency numbers by your phone.
  7. Keep individual medical history information handy.

Alice didn’t want to bother anyone when she became short of breath during the night. So she waited until dawn to call for help.

Another patient, Larry, flew to a medical research center for tests. When he returned home, he headed to the local emergency room for follow-up tests and a second opinion.

Neither patient made the best health decision.

By the time Alice got to the hospital, her lungs were so filled with fluid she nearly died. By contrast, Larry’s follow-up should have been handled through his primary care doctor’s office.

Although doctors regularly advise, “When in doubt, check it out,” that doesn’t necessarily mean a trip to the emergency room.

We’ve prepared these guidelines to help you distinguish a true emergency from a medical problem that requires a regular doctor’s visit.

Seek emergency treatment…

in cases of sudden changes in mental status:

  • fainting or dizziness
  • hallucinations or sudden clouding of thoughts
  • suicidal or homicidal feelings
  • excessive sleepiness, fussiness, dizziness, confusion or changes in mental abilities in babies or children

Seek emergency treatment…

in cases of trauma:

  • wounds that don’t stop bleeding after 10 to 15 minutes of pressure; wounds in which the edges gape; wounds that involve the face or hands; wounds caused by a puncture; wounds in which glass, metal or other objects may have pierced the body
  • problems with movement or feeling after an injury
  • burns on the face or genitals; burns around the whole hand; burns that feel painless or numb; burns that are white, brown, black or charred
  • sunburn with nausea, vomiting, fever and chills
  • animal and human bites
  • broken bones
  • spinal (back or neck) injuries
  • poisoning or drug overdose

Seek emergency treatment…

Anytime you have these symptoms:

  • difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • chest, jaw, shoulder, arm or abdominal pain or pressure
  • sudden lack of coordination, numbness, weakness or loss of balance on one or both sides
  • difficulty speaking or understanding simple statements
  • sudden blurred or limited vision in one or both eyes
  • sudden, severe pain anywhere in the body
  • bulging or abnormally depressed fontanel (soft spot) in babies

Seek emergency treatment…

When acute illnesses such as fever or flu turn serious.

Watch for these symptoms:

  • stiff neck with fever or headache
  • stupor or dazed behavior with a high fever
  • fever that doesn’t come down with medications
  • severe or persistent vomiting
  • coughing up or vomiting blood
  • bloody stools or bloody diarrhea in children