doctor examining female patient
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Trust Your Gut

One of your most powerful tools is your own observation. Most of us have a sense for when a situation is dangerous. If your instinct or intuition tells you it’s serious, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. It’s always better to err on the side of caution when it comes to your health.

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woman with chest pain close up
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Chest Pain

If you have chest pain or pressure that lasts more than a couple of minutes, or if it comes back, it’s time to call 911. You shouldn’t try to drive yourself or a loved one with these symptoms. The ambulance has special equipment and trained people who can help you more quickly.

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woman experiencing shortness of breath
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Shortness of Breath

If it happens suddenly and is keeping you from your everyday activities, have someone drive you to the emergency room. Call 911 if it’s severe or if you also have nausea or chest pain or you pass out. You could be having a heart attack or pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in your lung).

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example of double vision
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Vision Problems

Call 911 if you suddenly have blurry vision, double vision, or loss of vision. That can be a sign of stroke or other serious illness. You also should call 911 if you have trouble seeing and have a bad headache, nausea or vomiting, numbness, weakness, dizziness, confusion, or trouble talking. If you have severe pain or irritation in your eyes, get emergency care as soon as possible.

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burn on mans forearm
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Burns

You can usually treat a minor first-degree burn -- redness, swelling, and pain in the first layer of skin -- at home. But get to the emergency room if the burn is on a large part of your hands or on your feet, face, buttocks, groins, or one of your big joints, like your knees or elbows. Also get emergency medical attention if you have blisters, splotchy skin (second-degree burn), or if it’s bigger than 3 inches or charred or white (third-degree burn).

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woman wiping childs face outside
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Vomiting

You should go to the emergency room if there’s blood in the vomit or you have other symptoms, like severe headache or abdominal pain, confusion, or fast breathing or heart rate. A child younger than 6 should be seen right away if vomiting lasts more than a few hours or he has any signs of dehydration. Kids over 6 and adults should see a doctor if the vomiting lasts longer than a day or they have a high fever (over 101 F for adults and 102 F for kids).

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mature man with head injury
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Head Injury

A bump on the head can be serious and need immediate medical care if you pass out, have a seizure, or have a headache that won’t go away, persistent vomiting or nausea, slurred speech, or you feel confused, weak, numb, or less coordinated.

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gauze covering cut on knee close up
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Deep Cuts

If you can see yellow fatty tissue under the first layer of skin, you should get to the emergency room. It will need quick attention if it won’t close or if it’s on your face, neck, genitals, or across a joint. You should also go if you were bitten by a person or animal, cut with a dirty or rusty object, or you’re bleeding badly or have a foreign object stuck in the cut.

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woman experiencing stomach pain
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Stomach Pain

If it lasts more than 30 minutes -- especially if it’s sudden and intense -- you should seek emergency medical care. Pain that doesn’t get better or happens with vomiting could be something serious like an inflamed appendix, which may need to come out very quickly.

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mature man wincing close up
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Testicular Pain or Swelling

This can be caused by an injury or infection, but it also can be a sign of serious problems in your abdomen. Get immediate care if the pain is severe or comes on quickly, or you have nausea, vomiting, fever, or feel a lump in your scrotum. The same is true if you still have pain an hour after an injury or your scrotum is red or swollen.

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mother checking childs temperature
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High Fever

If a baby younger than 3 months old has a temperature of more than 100.4 F, she needs to be seen right away. This is true for a child of any age or an adult who has a fever of 104 F or higher. 

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senior man looking confused
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Confusion or Trouble Speaking

These are two of the most common symptoms of stroke. Don’t take any chances -- call 911 right away. Your treatment and recovery depend a lot on how fast you get medical care. Other stroke symptoms may include sudden problems walking or balancing, intense headache, drooping on one side of your face, and numbness or weakness on one side of your body.

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rollerblade ankle injury
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Broken Bones

If you think you have a broken bone, see a doctor as soon as possible. It’s an emergency situation if a bone pierces your skin, or if the injured body part looks deformed or is numb or bluish. This also applies if the bone is in your neck, head, or back, or there’s heavy bleeding.

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active brain illustration
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Seizure

If you’ve never had one before, are pregnant, or have diabetes, a seizure calls for emergency medical care. If you know you have a condition that causes seizures, follow your doctor’s orders. But call your doctor if you start to have more seizures or have other symptoms along with them.

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sanitary napkins close up
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Vaginal Bleeding During Pregnancy

It’s not always a sign of something serious, particularly spotting or light bleeding in the first trimester, but you should note your symptoms and call your doctor. Get medical care right away if you have heavy bleeding or you also have cramping, dizziness, or pain in your belly or pelvis. 

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bruising on skin close up
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Special Case: Blood-Thinning Medications

Even a minor injury can be serious if you take blood thinners. Call 911 if you have an injury and your heart rate or breathing becomes fast or you have trouble breathing, a headache, or feel sleepy, faint, or dizzy. Also, bruises that get larger or more painful may be a sign of internal bleeding and mean you should get emergency care.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 12/02/2016 Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on December 02, 2016

IMAGES PROVIDED BY:

1) Sneksy / Getty Images

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5) Dr P. Marazzi / Science Source

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SOURCES:

American College of Emergency Physicians (Emergency Care for You): “Emergency 101: Abdominal pain.”

American Stroke Association: “Stroke Warning Signs and Symptoms.”

BJC Accountable Care Association: “Keeping You Safe While On Blood Thinners.”

CDC: “What are the Signs and Symptoms of Concussion?”

Cleveland Clinic: “Does Your Cut Need Stitches? Find Out How to Tell,” “Do You Know When to Visit the ER for Vomiting?”

Diabetes Self Management: “Silent Heart Attack.”

Harvard Health Publications: “Fever in adults,” “When chest pain strikes: What to expect at the emergency room.”

HealthyChildren.org: “When to Call the Pediatrician: Fever.”

March of Dimes: “Bleeding and spotting from the vagina during pregnancy.”

Mayo Clinic: “Vision Problems,” “Burns: First aid,” “Chest pain: First aid,” “Diseases and Conditions: Grand mal seizure,” “Fractures (broken bones): First aid,” “Symptoms: Shortness of Breath.”

National Stroke Association: “Signs and Symptoms of Stroke.”

NetWellness.org: “Stroke: Know the Warning Signs and Act FAST!”

Scripps.org: “Should You Go to the Emergency Room or Urgent Care?”

University of Maryland Medical Center: “Testicle pain.”

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on December 02, 2016

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.