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When Should I Call 911?

What is a Medical Emergency?

The American College of Emergency Physicians guidelines state that you should call 911 if you answer “yes” to at least one of the following questions:

  • Is the situation life-threatening?
  • Could the situation worsen and become life-threatening during a drive to the ED?
  • Do you need special equipment or skills to move the patient?
  • Could traffic or distance cause a delay in getting to the ED, creating a life-threatening situation?

If a medical condition arises suddenly and you believe that immediate medical care is needed, you should go to the ED. Examples include:

  • Signs of heart attack (including but not limited to):
    • chest pain
    • pain traveling into the neck, into the jaw, through the back or down one or both arms
    • sweating or
    • difficulty breathing
  • Signs of stroke: Think FAST!

stroke FAST
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 phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?
TIME: If you observe any of these signs, call 9-1-1 immediately.

  • Severe shortness of breath
  • Bleeding that will not stop after 10 minutes of continuous direct pressure
  • Poisoning
  • Broken bones or suspected broken bones
  • Major injuries such as a head injury
  • Coughing up or vomiting blood
  • Suicidal or homicidal feelings