When Seconds Count

By Russell, Betty

Your son has a cut that won't stop bleeding.

You have severe abdominal pain.

Your mother is uncharacteristically confused.

Would you know what to do in these situations? Experts say these are some of the symptoms that may require immediate emergency medical care.

Medical emergencies can be frightening and confusing. But the good news is that emergency treatment often saves lives.

"There are so many emergency treatments that didn't exist 10 or 15 years ago that we can often make a difference in someone's life," says Richard O'Brien, M.D., an emergency medicine specialist in Scranton, Pa., and a spokesman for the American College of Emergency Physicians.

When to seek emergency care

Seconds often count when emergencies strike. Seek emergency care immediately if the person experiences these symptoms:

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Chest pain or pressure

  • Unexplained very high fever

  • Severe allergic reaction

  • A change in mental status, particularly if it is sudden

  • Severe pain

  • Uncontrollable bleeding

  • Severe vomiting or diarrhea

  • Limbs that don't feel or move normally

  • Seizures

When an emergency strikes

Many people who are sick or injured can be driven to the emergency department. But in serious situations, you should call for emergency assistance so that trained personnel can start life-saving treatment right away.

Call for help when:

  • The victim's condition is life-threatening or could worsen on the way to the hospital.

  • Moving the victim requires special skills or equipment.

  • Distance or traffic could cause a delay in getting the victim to the hospital.

When in doubt

Many health plans have telephone advice lines that you can call in urgent situations. You also can call your family physician if you have time. But if you're not sure whether a situation is a true emergency, you may want to heed Dr. O'Brien's advice: "When in doubt, seek emergency care."

What to expect

When a patient arrives at the emergency department, personnel usually assess his or her symptoms as soon as possible to determine the severity of the emergency.

"We treat the sickest people first," Dr. O'Brien says. "So some people with less serious conditions may have to wait while a sicker patient, who may have arrived after them, is treated."

Medical Reviewer: [Foster, Sara M. RN, MPH, Keyes, Linda MD, Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt, MD] Last Annual Review Date: 2010-02-17T00:00:00-07:00 Copyright: Copyright Health Ink & Vitality Communications

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