Medical Emergency? When to call 9-1-1 - In a Heartbeat

Medical Emergency? When to call 9-1-1

Generally speaking, we all know to call 9-1-1 in a medical emergency.  But exactly what constitutes an emergency can cause confusion.  

A medical emergency is a condition that, if not treated immediately by medical personnel, will likely pose a risk to life and long-term health.  These include:

  • Severe labored or distressed breathing that does not improve with rest
  • Sudden blindness or severe vision changes
  • Heavy bleeding that will not stop
  • Choking
  • Drowning
  • Severe burns
  • Someone has passed out or is unresponsive
  • Seizure
  • Poisoning
  • Anaphylaxes
  • Broken bones visible through a wound
  • Heart attack/Chest pain
  • Stroke
  • Severe medical issue that occurs while alone
  • Sudden change in mental status
  • Desire to commit suicide or murder

If you are in doubt, call 9-1-1 and allow the trained dispatchers to determine if there is in fact an emergency.

Commonly asked questions:

What should I expect when I call 9-1-1?  Emergency dispatchers are typically professionals with specialized training to provide real-time CPR instruction and live-saving first aid advice, while dispatching emergency responders to your location.  They will likely ask a number of questions to determine the type and level of assistance you will need.  Be sure to listen carefully, as each question has a very specific purpose.

Can I text 9-1-1:  There are efforts to expand call centers’ ability to receive texts across the US, however current availability is very limited.  For now, always call from a landline or cell phone.

What do I do if I or my child dial 9-1-1 by accident?  Do not hang up!  Disconnecting the line may cause the dispatcher to assume there is an emergency.  Simply explain the mistake.

Where do I call for non-emergency assistance?  This website is a great resource for non-emergency phone numbers for your area.  It is also worth keeping handy when on vacation or away from home, as well.

Are the dispatchers able to communicate with the deaf/hearing impaired?  Yes, they are equipped with Telecommunication Device for the Deaf.  If you do not have access to a TTY/TDD, the caller should dial 9-1-1 and stay on the line.  Most centers will be able to determine their address and send help.

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