Recognizing and responding to a Medical Emergency


In the event of a medical emergency, calling 911 should typically be the first priority.


Heart Attack

Coronary artery disease remains the number one cause of death in America. Calling 9-1-1 should be the first action taken for someone who suspects they may be having a heart attack.

The most common symptom of a heart attack is chest pain. This is often described as heaviness, pressure or tightness. It may also radiate to another part of the body such as the shoulders, neck or jaw.

Although chest pain is the most common symptom of a heart attack, not all heart attacks present with chest pain. This is more likely to be true for women, geriatrics and diabetics. Other symptoms may be described as abdominal pressure, indigestion or shortness of breath. In some cases, there may be no symptoms at all so having a doctor evaluate your risk factor for a heart attack is important. 

Oftentimes, a person experiencing a heart attack may be in a state of denial and resist help. Thus, when in doubt, be persistent and call 9-1-1 regardless.


A stroke is caused by an interruption of blood flow to an area of the brain. This is caused either by a clot that restricts blood flow or bleeding from a blood vessel within the brain.

The onset of a stroke can happen suddenly and without prior symptoms or warning. Most commonly, a stroke will present with abnormal difficulty moving part of the body and will generally be experienced on one side only. Other symptoms may include drooping on one side of the face or mouth and/or difficulty forming words.

Anytime someone experiences any of these symptoms, 9-1-1 should be called immediately. Do not wait to see if the symptoms will resolve on their own. This is because drugs used to treat a stroke are most effective when administered as early as possible. In fact, some treatments are no longer optional after just a couple of hours following symptom onset.