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5 Emergencies: Do You Know What to Do?

Knowing how to act in a medical emergency can save a life.

5 Common Emergencies continued...

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.

Emergency: Choking. You're talking at the dinner table, and someone starts coughing. When does it become an emergency? "When they're coughing, it's OK, because there is air movement, they are breathing," Ramirez says. "If they're not making any noise whatsoever, their face is getting red, you need to do the Heimlich maneuver. At that point, they are not breathing."

Caution: "If they're coughing, doing the Heimlich can make it worse," she adds. Also, hitting a choking person on the back can make the situation worse -- the food may go back into the windpipe. "They need to work it out themselves; leave them alone, until they reach a point where there's no airway noise."

Take time now to re-read directions on the Heimlich maneuver, she suggests.

Emergency: Bleeding. "When someone cuts their finger, they think they're going to bleed to death," says Ramirez. "People don't understand that there are nine units of blood in the body. The parts of the body that bleed a lot are the scalp, fingers, and toes. A nosebleed can bleed a lot. A cut in the vaginal area can bleed a lot. But they won't bleed to death."

Nosebleeds can have a serious cause, like high blood pressure, or they can be caused by chronic nose-picking. "If someone with high blood pressure has a serious nosebleed, you're looking at potential disaster," Ramirez tells WebMD.

Rule of thumb: "When something scares you, call 911 or go to the hospital," she says. "We can say whether it's an emergency or not."

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