St. Joseph's

What to do in a Medical Emergency

Knowing the warning signs of a medical emergency and what to do can save lives!

Seven Warning Signs of a Medical Emergency

A medical emergency is any condition that, if left untreated, could cause severe harm or even death. Getting immediate help can mean the difference between a relatively simple cure or treatment and a more complicated and costly intervention. Each year in the United States more than a half million people die because they don’t seek emergency care soon enough after a heart attack, stroke, or other life-threatening situation. Know the seven signs of a medical emergency best treated in an emergency room:

  1. Sudden or severe pain, including chest pain
  2. Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  3. Sudden confusion or disorientation
  4. Coughing or vomiting blood, severe or persistent vomiting or diarrhea
  5. Uncontrolled bleeding of any kind
  6. Headache with stiff neck or fever
  7. Sudden dizziness, weakness, numbness, or change in vision

Heart Attack Symptoms

If you are having any of the following symptoms, call 911 immediately:

  • Feeling very weak
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Pounding heart
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heavy sweating
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Chest, arm or jaw pain

Recognize stroke symptoms and act F.A.S.T

Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Are the words slurred? Can he/she repeat the sentence correctly?
Time: If the person shows any of theses symptoms, time is important. Call 911 quickly.

If you or someone else could suffer significant harm unless they get care immediately, dial 911. Highly trained emergency medical services (EMS) personnel will respond and begin appropriate treatment before you arrive at the hospital.

Still not sure if you should call 911?

  • Is the patient’s condition life-threatening?
  • Could the patient’s condition worsen and become life-threatening on the way to the hospital?
  • Could moving the patient cause further injury?
  • Does the patient require the skills or equipment of emergency personnel?
  • Could distance or traffic conditions cause a delay in getting the patient to the hospital?

If the answer to any of these questions is “yes” or if you are unsure, it’s best to call 911.

Calling for emergency help

When speaking with the 911 dispatcher, do the following:

  • Speak clearly
  • Give your name
  • Give your address and the location of the patient at that address
  • Give your phone number
  • Describe the problem
  • Don’t hang up until instructed by the dispatcher

Bring Medical Information to Emergency Room

Details about your allergies, current medications, past medical history, Advance Directives and other information will be requested by Emergency Care Center staff. If you have time to gather these things to bring to the emergency room, they will be helpful in providing the best patient care.

Having an emergency information form for each member of your household can help you feel confident in an emergency. Keep copies wherever you think you might need them and provide to caregivers.

We also encourage everyone to create an Advance Directive. This is a simple legal document that lets you appoint a health care decision-maker and specify health care preferences if you cannot speak for yourself. The best time to create a Living Will, Power of Attorney for Health Care or other Advance Directive is before you need to be in the hospital. This will allow you time to discuss your wishes with your physician and family. 

For more information, call the St. Joseph’s Hospital admissions department at 262-334-8347 or a social worker at 262-334-8365. Read more about Advance Directive and how to create them.