Is It an Emergency?

WAXAHACHIE, TX — It could be a headache that’s worse than others, a cough that won’t quit or a cut that keeps bleeding. At some point, you’ve likely had to decide whether a trip to the emergency department is in order.

For many symptoms, it can be tough to tell. The tips below may help you decide if a trip to the emergency department is in order.

Symptoms that warrant an emergency department visit include:

  • Any trouble breathing
  • Pain or pressure in your chest
  • Feeling faint, dizzy or weak
  • Severe pain that comes on suddenly
  • Bleeding that doesn’t stop
  • Excessive vomiting or diarrhea
  • Vomiting or coughing blood
  • Feeling suicidal
  • Having trouble speaking
  • Vision changes
  • Mental status changes
  • Unusual abdominal pain

It’s important not to panic if you or someone else experiences these symptoms. While these signs can warn of serious medical problems such as heart attack or stroke, they could also result from other, less serious conditions.

Sometimes the answer isn’t so clear-cut. While it is true the emergency department often sees individuals who do not have true emergencies, it’s always best to err on the side of caution. But how do you know whether to call 9-1-1? If you think the medical condition seems life-threatening or might worsen before you get to the hospital, if you’re worried about moving someone who has hurt their back or neck or if you live far away and may confront serious traffic congestion or a construction delay, go ahead and call 9-1-1.

Children may display additional symptoms that require immediate attention, such as high fever combined with a stiff neck, confusion, headache or difficulty breathing; a bad choking episode for infants; or ingestion of household cleaning products or medications — even a single dose of a grandparent’s high blood pressure medicine can be extremely dangerous.

For other conditions, call your primary care physician. Many doctors will return your call even after hours, and he or she can let you know whether a home treatment, an office visit or a trip to the ER is the best choice.

Since most minor accidents and injuries happen close to home, it’s important to keep a well-stocked first-aid kit within easy reach. The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) recommends including the following supplies:

  • First-aid manual and local emergency phone numbers
  • Acetaminophen, ibuprofen and aspirin
  • Assorted bandages and gauze pads
  • Adhesive tape
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Antihistamine
  • Antiseptic wipes
  • Cold packs for injuries and burns
  • Elastic wraps for sprains
  • Hydrocortisone cream
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Latex gloves
  • Oral medicine syringe for children
  • Scissors
  • Tweezers
  • Thermometer

Contributed by Baylor Medical Center at Waxahachie. For more information, go to