5 Medical Symptoms Worthy of 911

Instinctively, we know to call 911 when someone breaks into our home or if we smell smoke. We know to call 911 if we get into a car crash.

But do you know when to call 911 for a medical condition?

Medical conditions are harder to judge than accidents. Sometimes they seem to come on slowly, and before you know it, it's an emergency. Medical conditions can be subtle, but they could still be as life-threatening as a gunshot wound.


Sudden Loss of Consciousness

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The sudden loss of consciousness (passing out) can be either no big deal or the end of life. At one end of the spectrum, some people pass out from the sight of blood—and that's not life-threatening. On the other hand, death—also known as cardiac arrest — starts with unconsciousness.


Chest Pain

Senior woman holding chest
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Chest pain is one of the most overlooked medical emergencies out there. Many folks explain it away as nothing more than heartburn or muscle soreness. However, don't ignore chest pain, as chest pain is the most common symptom of a heart attack.


Weakness on One Side

Stroke Week on One Side
Only being able to lift one arm can be a sign of stroke. Science Photo Library/Getty Images

Strokes can either be sudden and completely scary or subtle and not clearly dangerous. Most people know to call 911 when they can't talk or they're drooling and can't stop, but weakness on one side and not the other is often explained away as nothing more than a pinched nerve. If the leg and the arm on one side go numb or weak together—especially if the other side is fine—it's time to call 911.


Shortness of Breath

Doctor listening to man’s breathing in doctor’s office
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Trouble breathing is the symptom that comes with almost anything. The causes of shortness of breath can be anything from a heart attack, a blood clot in the lungs, a collapsed lung, anaphylactic shock and more.



Seizures can be from chronic conditions, like epilepsy, or they can be from new damage to the brain or from things that affect the brain, like low blood sugar or heat stroke. If the victim has never had a seizure before—or you don't know if she has—call 911.

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