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When to Call for Help

Healthcare provider talking on the phone in an exam room

Anytime you're not comfortable with a medical situation, call 911 or your local emergency number, go to your nearest emergency room, or call your family healthcare provider.

When to get help right away

According to the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), these conditions need medical attention right away. Call 911:

  • Trouble breathing or shortness of breath

  • Choking

  • Chest or upper belly pain or pressure lasting 2 minutes or more

  • Fainting, sudden dizziness, or weakness

  • Changes in vision

  • Confusion or changes in mental status or unusual behavior

  • Any sudden or severe pain

  • Uncontrolled bleeding

  • Severe vomiting or diarrhea, or vomiting or diarrhea that doesn't stop

  • Coughing or vomiting blood

  • Feelings about harming yourself or others

  • Trouble speaking, or numbness or weakness in any part of your body 

  • Unusual belly pain

Additional conditions

Other conditions and symptoms that need emergency attention include:

  • Poisoning

  • Drug overdose

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Major burn

  • Spinal cord, head, or brain injury

  • Severe allergic reaction

  • A fast heartbeat (more than 120 to 150 beats per minute) at rest, especially if linked to shortness of breath or feeling faint

  • A broken bone with a piece of bone poking through the skin

  • Drowning

Emergencies for children

ACEP says to get help right away if your child has any of the following:

  • Any significant change from normal behavior

  • Confusion or delirium

  • Child is less responsive or alert, or is unconscious

  • Very sleepy

  • Is irritable

  • Seizure or abnormal shaking or twitching

  • Strange or withdrawn behavior

  • Severe headache or vomiting, especially if the child injured their head

  • Uncontrolled bleeding

  • Child can't stand up or is unsteady when walking

  • Breathing problems

  • Skin or lips that look blue or purple, or gray for darker-skinned children

  • Trouble feeding or eating

  • Pain that gets worse or is very bad

  • Fever with a change in behavior. This could be a sudden, severe headache, mental changes, neck or back stiffness, or rashes.

  • Severe vomiting or diarrhea, or vomiting or diarrhea that doesn't stop

When to call for help

Remember, if you're not comfortable with a medical situation, call for help. By acting fast, you may prevent a serious emergency and could save a life.

Online Medical Reviewer: Eric Perez MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Maryann Foley RN BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Ronald Karlin MD
Date Last Reviewed: 9/1/2020
© 2000-2020 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.