In A Health Emergency, Would You Know What To Do?

Health Emergency Tips Everyone Should Know

Most of us know serious medical symptoms when we see them: severe bleeding, chest pains, fainting, seizures. But when faced with these symptoms, would you know how to react? Or would you clam up and panic as the situation hit you?

According to William Walters, a Medical Emergency Specialist based at Temple University in Philadelphia, most people hesitate. They don’t know what to do, and they panic. But medical emergencies can happen anywhere – in the street, at a game, or in your own home.

Here are some common health emergencies, along with what to do when they happen.

Emergency #1: Dizziness And Fainting

If you’re out and about and somebody tells you that they don’t feel well, that they feel dizzy or weak, then there’s a good chance that it could be a medical emergency, says Walters. People are unlikely to randomly volunteer mild health problems to strangers, like the fact that they’ve got a cold. But they’re a lot more likely to say that they’re feeling sick if they are experiencing something much more severe.

Walters says that the first thing people should do in this situation is to call 911. There are literally dozens of reasons why they might suddenly be feeling ill, he says. These could include anything from pregnancy to heart attack to low blood sugar. Without knowing more about the patient and their own unique needs, it’s impossible to tell exactly what it is that they need. All you need to know as a stranger is that they need help and they need it fast

While you’re waiting for help to arrive, it’s a good idea to keep talking to the patient to check their alertness. Elda Ramirez, a professor and division head at the University of Texas Medical School of Nursing, advises people to ask simple questions, like “Are you OK?” and “Do you know where you are?” These questions are designed to find out whether the person is fully conscious and knows where they are.

If a patient isn’t responsive, Ramirez suggests checking their pulse and breathing. You can do this, she says, by listening to breathing through the nose and checking to see if the chest is rising or falling. If you know how to take a pulse at the wrist or the neck, do this too or ask the operative on the other end of the 911 call about how to do this. If you can’t feel a pulse, Ramirez says to start CPR. You can find out how to do this at

Sometimes things don’t escalate this far, says Ramirez. Often a person can be left feeling weak if they’ve been out in the heat too long and have simply overheated. Her advice is to try to slowly cool them down by doing things like pouring water over their skin. The elderly and children are particularly vulnerable, she says, to this type of thing.

Emergency #2: Bleeding

Bleeding is one of the clearest and most visible signs that a person needs medical attention. But, as Ramirez points out, people don’t usually understand just how much blood is in the body and how severe bleeding needs to be before it becomes life threatening. She points out that there are over nine units of blood in the body, meaning that most people have to lose a lot of blood before they start to feel dizzy or lightheaded.


Bleeding is most severe from fingers and toes, the scalp and the vagina, Ramirez says. Nosebleeds too can bleed a lot, she points out. But there’s not usually any risk in these situations of bleeding to death.

It’s a good idea, however, if you have been cut or there is a large break in the skin to get stitches. Stitches are essential for helping wounds heal properly and to prevent severe scarring or disfigurement. Visit for details.

Ramirez’s advice for when to call 911 is when “something scares you.” For instance, if your child is having a nosebleed, then it’s probably caused by chronic nose picking and isn’t an indicator of an underlying problem. If, however, you parents are having a nosebleed and you know that they have a history of high blood pressure, then you could be looking at a potential disaster.

It’s also important, Ramirez notes, to make sure that things like tendons, especially in the finger, haven’t been cut. Often people will cut tendons in their finger, but because they don’t bleed that much, think that they are fine and that their finger will get better with time. But of course, without medical attention, tendons don’t usually recover, meaning that patients often lose mobility in their fingers. The good news is that regular stitches can sort the problem out quickly, and enable the finger to be rehabilitated.

Finally, those who are bleeding shouldn’t use a tourniquet. It causes too much damage to tissue, Ramirez says. A better option is to put pressure on the site of the wound itself to prevent further bleeding and help clotting.

Emergency #3: Seizures

Seizure symptoms vary from person to person. For some people, seizures aren’t particularly obvious. They could simply freeze mid-sentence or simply fall down. In other cases, seizures are more apparent. Often children who suffer from regular seizures will tilt their head back or flutter their eyelids. Seizures can be brought on by overheating as well as established conditions, like Epilepsy.

According to Ramirez, any seizure requires medical attention. She suggests immediately calling 911 and making sure that the person having the seizure doesn’t hurt themselves while you wait. She also says that it’s a good idea to make sure that you aren’t near to the person having the seizure, as they can hurt you because of their uncontrolled movements.

It used to be advised that witnesses of seizures put things in the patient’s mouth to stop clenching. But that advice has since been revoked because it is too dangerous.

Finally, it’s a good idea to time how long the seizure lasts to see if there is any change from previous episodes. An increase in the length of a seizure could indicate a worsening of symptoms; a decrease might suggest that a new medical regimen is having a positive effect.

Emergency #4: Choking

We all know about the dangers of the proverbial fishbone in our soup, but would you know how to react if somebody was choking right in front of you? There’s a good chance that you’ll encounter somebody choking at some point when they start coughing at the dinner table. But when exactly does it become an emergency?

Ramirez says that coughing is actually a good sign because it means that the airway is open. If there’s movement, then there are breathing and are at least getting some oxygen into their body. But if they aren’t making any noise at all and their face is going red, it’s time to do the Heimlich maneuver. You can find out how to do this on

Ramirez offers some warning to people who find themselves in a situation where a person is choking. She says that it’s a bad idea to hit them hard on the back since this can sometimes cause the object obstructing their windpipe to fall further into their lungs. It’s a much better idea, she says, to let the choking person “work it out themselves.” Leave them to sort the problem out by themselves, she says, until there is no airway noise.

For people who are worried about choking, avoid eating animal products. The vast majority of choking episodes are caused by things like stringy meat, sausages, and bones.

Emergency #5: Chest Pain

When it comes to chest pain, there are a number of things that it could be. But Ramirez says that it’s always best to err on the side of caution and just assume that it is a heart attack. Heart attacks are very common, affecting around a third of people, meaning that when a person starts to complain of chest pain, it’s likely that it a cardiovascular event.

In the world of ER, anybody can have a heart attack. It doesn’t matter if they’re 18 or 80, if somebody is complaining of chest pains, they treat it as an emergency. Ramirez’s advice is that people who are with others complaining of chest pain do the same. She says that it’s vital to immediately call 911 as well as checking airways, breathing and circulation, also known as ABC.

If breathing stops or a person doesn’t have a pulse, it’s time to start CPR. People get scared when it comes to CPR because they’re worried they might do something wrong. Ramirez says that the most important thing that people need to do is make sure that they get the patient’s chin up and their tongue out so that it doesn’t obstruct the airway. The next step is to begin chest compressions. These compressions should be firm, even on an older person. The priority is to make sure that the heart continues to pump blood to the brain, even if the heart itself isn’t working. The minutes before paramedics arrive are vital.

Knowing the right steps to take in an emergency can save a loved one’s life. Have you been involved in a Health Emergency?

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