Emergency Care For You

Preparing for Emergencies

Your regular physician can explain the emergency care available in your community and help you and your family prepare for a medical emergency. Other things you can do to prepare for a medical emergency are:

  • Keep well-stocked first aid kits at home, at work and in your car.
  • Take classes in CPR and first aid.
  • Post emergency numbers near the telephone. 
  • Organize family medical information, including a history of surgeries, hospitalizations and serious illnesses, such as chronic conditions like asthma or diabetes. Have that medical history, along with a list of your regular doctors, readily available to take with you to the emergency department. 
  • Make lists of medications (and dosages) taken by all family members (including allergies to medication) and keep it available to take with you to the emergency department.
  • Add I.C.E. or “In Case of Emergency” contact name and phone numbers to your cell phone. This should identify someone who is close to you and can communicate your medical history to emergency responders if you are not able to communicate for yourself.
  • Complete medical consent forms for your family, which will allow someone to authorize medical treatment in an emergency situation when you’re unable to give consent (e.g., if you’re unconscious). If you have children, complete a medical consent form for each child and provide them to all caregivers (e.g., babysitters). (These forms are available at EmergencyCareForYou.org.)
  • Learn the warning signs of medical emergencies.

Warning Signs of a Medical Emergency

The American College of Emergency Physicians has identified significant warning signs of a medical emergency:

  • Difficulty breathing, shortness of breath 
  • Chest or upper abdominal pain or pressure lasting two minutes or more 
  • Fainting, sudden dizziness, weakness 
  • Changes in vision 
  • Difficulty speaking 
  • Confusion or changes in mental status, unusual behavior, difficulty waking 
  • Any sudden or severe pain 
  • Uncontrolled bleeding 
  • Severe or persistent vomiting or diarrhea 
  • Coughing or vomiting blood 
  • Suicidal or homicidal feelings 
  • Unusual abdominal pain 

These do not represent every kind of sign or symptom that might indicate a medical emergency, so if you think you are having a medical emergency, seek immediate medical care.

Review this list with your physician. Ask whether there are other warning signs to watch for based on your own medical history. In addition, ask when to call the doctor’s office versus going straight to an emergency department or calling an ambulance. Find out what you should do when the doctor’s office is closed.