Health Library

Categories > Family Wellness > Visiting the doctor or hospital

When 911 is called for
Dialing for doctors

When to call 911
When to call 911

In a medical crisis, every second counts. Below are examples of symptoms that constitute a medical emergency. Call 911 right away if you or a companion experiences any of them. Doing so could save a life.

  • chest pain that radiates to the shoulders and arms, accompanied by nausea, dizziness, fainting or profuse sweating—classic signs of heart attack
  • sudden numbness on one side of the face or limbs, confusion, slurring of speech, vision loss, severe headache or dizziness—all signs of a possible stroke
  • head, neck or back trauma
  • difficulty breathing, shortness of breath
  • severe, uncontrolled bleeding
  • abdominal injuries or sudden severe abdominal pain, a sign of appendicitis
  • severe allergic reactions from insect bites, food or beverages
  • overdoses of drugs or alcohol
  • poisoning
  • attempted suicide or suicidal threats or statements
  • sudden severe fever coupled with sensitivity to light
  • sudden or persistent vomiting or diarrhea
  • stiff neck with fever or headache
  • stupor or dazed behavior
  • coughing or vomiting blood
  • fainting, dizziness or hallucinations

Remember: Call 911 anytime you think someone could suffer serious harm or possibly die without receiving fast medical help.

With good health habits and a little luck, you may never face a sudden medical crisis. But sooner or later, some of us find ourselves involved in one. Suppose it’s chest pain, stomach cramps or a nasty kitchen accident—what’s the right response? Should you hit red alert or just go see your family doctor?

Although doctors regularly advise, “When in doubt, check it out,” you don’t want to overreact by calling 911 when it’s not needed. On the other hand, precious time could be lost if you hesitate in a true emergency.

Dialing for doctors

A true medical emergency is a situation that is life threatening or could cause permanent harm if not treated immediately. Every minute counts. That’s the difference between cases needing instant, team-managed medical intervention and those your doctor can handle in the office.

Doctors say there are no “wrong” reasons to call 911 in a real emergency, especially if it’s heart related. At such a critical time, don’t drive yourself to the ER or get a taxi or someone else to drive you—it could be dangerous. Plus, you need the expertise and equipment that’s on an ambulance.

Once an ambulance arrives, paramedics will quickly bring the situation under control. You’ll get a rapid physical assessment followed by whatever care is required, such as oxygen, heart monitoring, temporary bandages or splints. After you’re stabilized, you’ll be rushed to the nearest emergency room where a team of doctors and nurses will be standing by.

The following chart lists various emergencies that require a 911 call. Post the list on your refrigerator or by your phone so you can refer to it in case of a medical crisis. And remember, if you are ever in doubt, play it safe and dial 911.