When to Call 9-1-1

Signs and Symptoms to Look Out For

It may seem as though it would be obvious when to call 9-1-1. A fire in the home, someone collapses clutching his or her chest, a severe cut is bleeding quickly. However, there are many common occurrences that underlie a serious problem, but may not seem life threatening until it’s too late. Knowing when to call 9-1-1 is a serious matter.

Common Symptoms and When to Call

Severe Headache

A sudden onset, severe headache that continues to get worse is a potentially life-threatening emergency, especially if associated with visual disturbances, loss of balance, impaired speech, or confusion.

Disorientation, Fainting, or Loss of Consciousness

Sudden disorientation can mean anything from low blood sugar to a serious seizure or stroke.  Loss of consciousness can be a sign of many internal problems, including heart attack, bleeding, infection, and shock even with an absence of pain. Either symptom should be treated immediately.

Hard Blow to the Head

Following a blow to the head, people should be monitored closely. Headache is common, but an extreme headache, a loss of memory, confusion, or repetition of a word, question, or phrase, can underlie a serious concussion and should be treated right away.

Pain or Discomfort in the Jaw

While many people associate heart attacks with chest pain, they commonly present with pain or discomfort in other areas of the body. Pain in the shoulders, arms, or jaw can be more indicative of a serious heart attack. Associated symptoms may be cool, clammy skin or difficulty breathing. Heart attacks commonly present differently in women than in men, know the signs and call if there is any concern.

Acute Behavioral Changes

People often discount or stigmatize mental illness as a weakness or flaw rather than an actual medical emergency. Suicidal expressions or thoughts should never be ignored. These situations can get out of control quickly and professional intervention is often needed.

Chest Discomfort

While many heart attacks present themselves with pain in other areas than the chest, tightness or pressure in the chest, dull aches, or the inability to take a full breath can be signs of a heart attack. These symptoms can occur whether you are at rest or active. These symptoms paired with difficulty breathing, radiated pain (shoulder, back, jaw, abdomen) pale clammy skin, heart palpitations, light-headedness, or nausea should be considered life threatening.

Difficulty Breathing

Severe asthma attacks, acute bronchitis, pneumonia, exacerbation of C.O.P.D., and congestive heart failure are all medical emergencies indicated by difficulty breathing. With young children, croup and epiglottitis can happen suddenly and quickly become life threatening. Even if you have never been diagnosed with a breathing disorder, a sudden-onset breathing problem should be treated without delay.

Severe Stomach Ache

Sharp stomach pains that worsen when you move or prevent you from sleeping should be examined quickly. Abdominal pain can also present as a constant deep ache that will not cease. If the pain is accompanied by fever, swelling, tenderness, nausea, vomiting, clammy skin, changes in bowel movements (color, diarrhea, constipation), bleeding, or radiated pain, this increases the likelihood of a serious condition. Any of these acute symptoms associated with pregnancy should also be examined quickly.

Symptoms After Injury

Traumatic injuries are frequently ignored. Neck pain after a vehicle accident or deep pelvic/abdominal pain following a skiing mishap are often discounted as normal consequences of a minor injury. However, non-displaced fractures and internal bleeding are sometimes self-diagnosed as deep bruising and can become life threatening if left untreated.

A Simple Fall

A ground-level fall can cause serious injury to the average person, but it can be devastating for the elderly on a more common basis. In many circumstances, a simple fall by an elderly family member can be treated like nothing more than a bump. However, if the elderly person is also dealing with other medical conditions or pain the consequences of a fall can be overlooked. A quick call to paramedics can eliminate a small fall causing massive issues.

When in Doubt, Call 9-1-1

Transport to the hospital via ambulance following a 9-1-1 call is never required and often not needed—if you’re concerned, call. We’ll make the decision as to whether you should be taken in for more in-depth care. We’re here to get to you quickly and assess the situation. Don’t pass over a possibly life-threatening injury or illness. Call us if you think you may need us.