MountainStar Health - February 28, 2019

You’re hiking through the park and come across a woman who has fallen unconscious.

Or maybe you’re at a child’s birthday party, and one of the kids is having an allergic reaction to a peanut butter cookie.

Do you know how to handle situations like this? If not, here’s what you should know about how to handle a medical emergency:

1) Know The Signs Of A Medical Emergency

In general, be on the lookout for sudden or severe pain, or uncontrolled bleeding, says the American College of Emergency Physicians.

There are other symptoms to watch for as well.

Signs Of A Medical Emergency


  • Fainting
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Changes in vision


  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing up blood


  • Abdominal pain or pressure lasting more than 2 minutes
  • Unusual abdominal pain
  • Severe or persistent vomiting or diarrhea
  • Vomiting blood


  • Difficulty speaking
  • Confusion
  • Unusual behavior
  • Difficulty waking up
  • Suicidal or homicidal feelings

Source: American College of Emergency Physicians

2) Always Remember To Remain Calm

In the movies, when an medical emergency happens, the characters react in one of two ways: They somehow know exactly what to do or they freak out in an emotional panic and can’t be helpful.

Unless you’re a doctor or nurse, you may not know what to do. But keeping a clear head is definitely the best way to start helping someone who is having a medical emergency. It may even make the difference between life and death.

That means staying solution-focused. If it’s a loved one or a child, this can be tough, especially if you’ve never been in the situation before. If you feel yourself losing your composure, find someone nearby to come help.

In most medical emergencies, every second counts. If you stay calm, you’ll be able to act more quickly, and potentially prevent a bad situation from getting worse.

3) Call 911, Don’t Drive

Some people react by driving the injured or ill person to the nearest emergency department, but it may be better to call 9-1-1 for an ambulance for several reasons:

Ambulances know exactly where to go. They don’t take wrong turns or end up in the wrong place. Time is important in a medical emergency, and you don’t want to risk getting lost by driving yourself.

They can bypass traffic. Blaring sirens prompt other drivers to clear the road. Also, ambulances can drive through red lights. If you drive, other cars and traffic signals might slow you down.

The ambulance medical team can start giving medical care to the injured or ill person on the way to the hospital. En route they can let the hospital know what’s going on, so they are ready when the patient gets there.

4) Answer Questions And Follow Directions

You’ll first need to have some basic information ready, such as:

  • Where you are: If you’re in a new place, you’ll at least want to know the cross streets if you don’t have the full address.
  • The details of the victim’s injury or illness: This could include questions about how long the victim has been in this state, whether they are breathing, and what could have caused the illness or injury.

You should never do anything you are unsure about to a person who is experiencing a medical emergency, the American College of Emergency Physicians explains.

The 911 operator can help you treat the victim until the ambulance arrives.

This may include walking you through how to perform CPR or the Heimlich Maneuver, or how to keep pressure on a wound to decrease blood loss.

For instance, if you aren’t sure whether the victim has injured his spine or neck, do not move him. This can make his injuries worse.

Again, the key is to stay focused on helping the victim—whether it’s you or someone you call.