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Heart Disease Health Center

5 Emergencies: Do You Know What to Do?

Knowing how to act in a medical emergency can save a life.
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5 Common Emergencies continued...

While you wait for paramedics to arrive:

Check alertness: Ask, "Are you OK?" advises Elda Ramirez, RN, MSN, FNP, CEN, professor and division head of emergency care at The University of Texas School of Nursing at Houston. "If they respond, ask 'Do you know where you are?' Ask things to determine level of orientation. If they become unresponsive, check for pulse, check to see if they're breathing. If you're by yourself, you have to find someone to help you."

Check breathing: Listen for breathing through the nose, watch the chest for rise and fall. Take a pulse, either at the wrist or neck. If they are breathing and have a pulse, you should stay with them to offer support. Again, 911 can help you figure out how to take someone's pulse.

Start CPR: If the patient isn't breathing and does not have a pulse, start CPR.

Make the patient comfortable: "If this person has been out in the heat, move them to a shady spot. If they're sweating, pour water over their skin," Ramirez tells WebMD. Elderly people or very young children are more prone to heat-related conditions. "If they're awake, give them fluids to drink," she says.

Emergency: Chest Pain. If someone grabs their chest and says "my chest hurts," assume it's a heart attack. "Chest pain is a heart attack until proven otherwise," Ramirez tells WebMD. "That's how we look at it in the ER world. A 17-year-old can have a heart attack. Anyone can have a heart attack."

Plan of action: Dial 911. Then check airway, breathing, circulation (ABC). Are they breathing? Do they have a pulse? If not, start CPR.

"The sad thing is, people get scared if they don't know CPR, they don't want to do the wrong thing," says Ramirez. "The most important thing -- if someone is not breathing -- is to position their head with the chin up, get their tongue out of the way (so the airway is open), then start doing chest compressions."

Learn more about how to handle a heart emergency, including information about AEDs, in this article from The Cleveland Clinic.

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