Recognizing medical emergencies

Alternative names
Medical emergencies - how to recognize them


According to the American College of Emergency Physicians, the following are warning signs of a medical emergency:

  • Fainting or loss of consciousness  
  • Difficulty breathing, Shortness of breath, or Choking. Continuous bleeding  
  • Coughing up or Vomiting blood  
  • Suicidal or homicidal feelings  
  • Severe or persistent Vomiting  
  • Chest pain  
  • Upper Abdominal pain or pressure  
  • Change in mental status (such as unusual behavior, confusion, difficulty arousing)  
  • Head or spine injury  
  • Sudden, severe pain anywhere in the body  
  • Sudden dizziness, weakness, or change in vision  
  • Ingestion of a poisonous substance  
  • Sudden injury like motor vehicle accident, burns or smoke inhalation, near drowing, deep or large wound, etc.


  • Remain calm.  
  • Start CPR or rescue breathing if necessary and you know the proper technique.  
  • Know the location and quickest route to the nearest emergency department.  
  • Keep emergency phone numbers posted by the phone. Everyone in your household, including children, should know when and how to call these numbers. These numbers include police, fire department, poinson control center, and ambulance services as well as your doctors’ numbers and contact numbers for work and neighbor or nearby friend or relative.  
  • Know at which hospital(s) your doctor practices and, if practical, go to that facility in an emergency.  
  • Upon arriving at an emergency room, the person will be immediately evaluated. Life- or limb-threatening conditions will be treated first. People with conditions that are not life- or limb-threatening may have to wait.  
  • Wear a medical identification tag if you have a chronic condition or look for one on a person who has any of the symptoms mentioned.  
  • Obtain a personal emergency response system if you are elderly, especially if y ou live alone.  
  • Place a semiconscious or unconscious person in the recovery position until the ambulance arrives. DO NOT move the person, however, if there has been a neck injury.


  • The person’s condition is life-threatening (like, a Heart attack or severe allergic reaction).  
  • Moving the person could cause further injury (for example, in case of a neck injury or motor vehicle accident).  
  • Distance or traffic conditions might cause a delay in getting the victim to the hospital.  
  • The person needs the skills or equipment of paramedics.  
  • The person’s condition could become life-threatening on the way to the hospital (for example, Shortness of breath).


Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 3, 2012
by Levon Ter-Markosyan, D.M.D.

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.