Recognising the signs of a medical emergency

It is essential to know how to recognize the signs of a medical emergency – because correctly interpreting and acting on these signs could potentially save your life or the life of a loved one.

For many medical emergencies, time is very important, so delays in treatment can often lead to serious consequences.

It is important to learn the warning signs of a medical emergency. The following signs and symptoms are examples of common issues.

Warning Signs and Symptoms

  • Difficulty breathing, shortness of breath
  • Chest or upper abdominal pain or pressure lasting two minutes or more
  • Fainting, sudden dizziness, weakness
  • Changes in vision
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Confusion or changes in mental status, unusual behaviour, difficulty waking
  • Any sudden or severe pain
  • Uncontrolled bleeding
  • Severe or persistent vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Coughing or vomiting blood
  • Suicidal or homicidal feelings
  • Unusual abdominal pain

To prepare for medical emergencies- practicalities

  • Put into your phone/ communication book a number for “In case of emergency” e.g. In Case of Emergency e.g. (ICE) – Dad 0400 111 222
  • Organize your medical information. Keep up to date copies in your home, car, first aid kits and wallet. Take the forms you need when you go to the emergency department
  • Keep a well stocked first aid kit
  • Learn about first aid class by completing St John Ambulance First Aid Course
  • Learn the warning signs of medical emergencies, and seek emergency care when they occur

Ways to prevent accidents

Always put safety first and reduce risks in your home and environment (e.g. Obstacles, Poisons).

Take care of yourself by following a sensible diet, exercising regularly and see the doctor for regular checkups. Talk to your doctor about family history of health issues so you can reduce risks. In addition:

Buckle up in motor vehicles.

Never use alcohol or other substances and drive or be driven by someone who is under the influence.

Use recommended safety gear and equipment when participating in sports and recreational activities.

Smoking and illegal drug use are considered to be a health hazard.

Develop a plan for medical emergencies – make sure everyone you live with knows what to do in specific circumstances, such as a flood or a fire.

Adapted from
Gibson, S, O’Connor, K, Access to health care for disabled people: a systematic review, Social care and neurodisability, 193, pp 21-31, 2010