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Heart Disease Health Center

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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...

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."

A cut tendon may be more problematic than the bleeding, she says. "It may need to be closed with sutures, or they may never be able to use that finger again. We hear it all the time, men who say, 'I'm fine, I'm fine.' They need to have that cut looked at."

Don't make a tourniquet: "We don't use tourniquets anymore," says Ramirez. "They cause too much damage to tissues. We advise putting direct pressure on the site. Even if it's a partial amputation, put a rag around it, hold it tight."

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