Health problems that needs immediate Attention
The novel coronavirus and COVID-19 justifiably dominate the health care world these days. But emergency medicine physicians are noticing a troubling trend as a result. According to an April 2020 poll conducted by Morning Consult and the American College of Emergency Physicians, nearly a third of American adults (29%) have delayed or avoided other medical care because they are worried about contracting COVID-19.
Nearly three-quarters of respondents (73 %) said they worried about overstressing the health care system, and 59% were concerned that they would not be able to get treated by a physician because physicians were too busy. Lower-income adults were the most concerned about access to health care.
Waiting to see a doctor if you think you’re having a medical emergency could be life threatening. While it’s important to stay home and follow social distancing guidelines, it’s critical to always know when to go to the emergency department.
Dr. Gary LeRoy, a family physician from Dayton, Ohio, and president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, has experienced this firsthand. “I heard a story of a man who died at home from a heart attack because he was afraid to go to the hospital, because of COVID,” says LeRoy, who is also associate dean of student affairs and admissions at Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine.
While some health issues can safely be treated at home or put off until you can see your primary care physician, it is critically important to know those signs and symptoms that need immediate medical attention. ACEP and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that any of the following, arranged in alphabetical order, are warning signs of a medical emergency.
Bleeding that won’t stop. Severe external wounds that can’t be controlled with bandages and pressure need attention both to stop the bleeding and to prevent infection. Internal bleeding is harder to recognize, but internal bleeding can become life-threatening very quickly. Internal pressure or pain may be a sign of internal bleeding. Those on blood-thinning medication or who have a bleeding disorder like hemophilia should always seek care when bleeding.
Breathing problems. This may include:
- Difficulty breathing.
- Shortness of breath.
- Uncomfortable breathing.
- Feeling like you are not getting enough air.
This is especially worth watching if you suspect you have COVID-19.
Changes in mental state. Signs of this could be:
- Unusual behavior.
- Difficulty arousing.
The National Institutes of Health define confusion as the inability to think as clearly or quickly as you normally do. It may include feeling disoriented and difficulty paying attention, remembering and making decisions. Unusual behavior may include acting aggressively or becoming withdrawn.
Chest pain. Though chest pain is mainly associated with a heart attack, it can also be a symptom of other problems in the heart, lungs, esophagus, the nervous system and the musculoskeletal system. The pain may also spread to the neck, back and abdomen.
Choking. According to the CDC, choking is the fourth leading cause of accidental death. If you or someone is choking on food or some other substance, call your emergency care unit immediately.
Coughing up or vomiting blood. According to the NIH, blood from a cough is usually bright red and may appear bubbly, because it is mixed with air and mucus. Sometimes the mucus contains only streaks of blood. Vomited blood may be bright red, dark red or look like coffee grounds, and may be mixed with food or just blood. Either requires immediate medical care.
COVID-19. The CDC lists the following as signs of an emergency:
- Trouble breathing.
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest.
- New confusion.
- Inability to wake or stay awake.
- Bluish lips or face.
These are not the only symptoms of COVID-19. The CDC says to call your medical provider for any other symptoms that are severe or concerning to you.
Fainting or loss of consciousness. There are many possible causes of loss of consciousness. The ACEP says that unconsciousness or any other sudden change in mental status must be treated as a medical emergency.
Feelings of committing suicide or murder. Anyone who expresses thoughts of harming themselves or others should be taken to an emergency room.
Severe abdominal pain or pressure. Severe pain may be from something as simple as gas or cramps, or it can be a sign of something more serious that needs immediate attention.
Sudden dizziness, weakness or change in vision. These can all be signs of a stroke, other neurological problems, poisoning, an infectious disease or other causes.
Other reasons you should seek immediate medical attention:
- Head or spine injury.
- Severe or persistent vomiting.
- Sudden injury due to a motor vehicle accident, burns or smoke inhalation, near drowning, deep or large wounds or other injuries.
- Sudden, severe pain anywhere in the body.
- Swallowing a poisonous substance.
If something doesn’t seem right, it is consistent or getting worse, seek medical attention instead of hoping it will go away. Remember, one of the first signs of heart attack is denial. Have a trusted health care professional you can call in these instances. Or get yourself to the nearest hospital – whether COVID-19 is surging or not.