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Seek Care for Medical Emergencies During COVID-19

COVID-19 has altered all of our lives. Yet, one critical thing remains the same. During a medical emergency, you need to call 911 or get to an emergency department (ED)—immediately.

In the earliest days of COVID-19 spread, hospitals postponed many appointments for patients whose medical care needs weren’t urgent and could be delayed until a later date. The fear was that too many patients being treated at one time could overload the health care system.

However, this delay in care does not apply to emergencies, which always need immediate attention. In some cases—stroke, heart attack or serious accident—any delay could make the difference between life and death.

Hospitals have taken special precautions and implemented numerous measures to keep their EDs safe and fully functioning. Emergency help is readily available and seeking it out when every minute counts has never been more important.

Learn about the common health conditions, signs and symptoms that signal you should call 911 and get help right away. Trust your instincts. If you have any serious health concern, seek emergency care.

Signs and Symptoms of Stroke

During a stroke, a blood vessel that carries oxygen to the brain is either blocked by a blood clot or bursts open. Acting quickly to get treatment for stroke can make the difference between a lasting disability and recovery, or even life and death. Nearly 85 percent of all strokes in the U.S. are caused by a blood clot, which in many cases can be dissolved if treated within 3 hours.

The American Stroke Association recommends using the letters F-A-S-T, along with these related questions, to help recognize common signs and symptoms of stroke:

  • Face drooping: Is one side drooping or numb? Ask the person to smile. Is their smile uneven or lopsided?
  • Arm weakness: Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one drift down?
  • Speech: Is the person’s speech slurred? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Are they unable to speak or hard to understand?
  • Time to call 911: If someone shows any of these symptoms—even if they go away—call 911 and get them to the hospital immediately.

Other signs and symptoms of stroke that require urgent medical care include sudden:

  • Numbness
  • Confusion
  • Trouble seeing
  • Trouble walking
  • Severe headache

Signs and Symptoms of a Heart Attack

About half of the people who die from a heart attack do so within an hour of having their first symptoms and before they reach the hospital.

Heart attacks can appear quite different from person to person, but there are some common warning signs:

Chest pain or discomfort:

  • Usually in the center or left side of the chest
  • Lasts for a few minutes or goes away and then comes back
  • Feels like a pressure, fullness or pain, and can even feel like indigestion or heartburn

Pain or discomfort in upper body:

  • One or both arms
  • Back
  • Shoulders
  • Neck
  • Jaw
  • Upper part of the stomach (above belly button)

Shortness of breath:

  • Can be your only symptom or can happen before or with chest pain or discomfort
  • Can occur when resting or during physical activity

Other symptoms:

  • Breaking into a cold sweat
  • Feeling unusually tired for no reason, sometimes for days (especially for women)
  • Feeling sick to your stomach (nausea) and vomiting
  • Feeling light-headed or suddenly dizzy
  • A sudden new symptom or change in the pattern of symptoms you already have (symptoms get stronger or last longer)

Signs and Symptoms of Severe COVID-19

People with COVID-19 can have a variety of symptoms. You should seek immediate medical attention if you or a loved one experiences any of the following:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion or inability to arouse
  • Bluish lips or face
  • Any other symptoms that are severe or concern you

Call 911 if you have a medical emergency and tell the operator that you have or think you may have COVID-19. If possible, put on a mask or face covering before help arrives. This helps prevent the spread of infection to health care workers.

Other Medical Conditions That Require Emergency Care

Seek emergency care right away if you or someone you love has these signs or symptoms:

  • Any sudden or severe pain, including sudden or severe headache
  • Change in mental status, confusion or unusual behavior or suicidal thoughts
  • Coughing or throwing up blood
  • Heavy bleeding that can’t be controlled
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizure
  • Severe or persistent vomiting or diarrhea
  • Trouble breathing or speaking

Other conditions that require emergency care include:

  • A significant accident or injury, including a severe burn, cut, blow to the head or fall
  • Drug overdose
  • Poisoning
  • Severe allergic reaction