A dear friend of mine had a small heart attack at the age of 50 years. His only warning sign was a feeling of indigestion. But after two days of unrelenting discomfort, he realized something was wrong and went to the emergency room. Yes, he received a warning sign, but it was atypical for a heart attack. In other words it was dubious. Let’s take a look at some other potentially deadly emergencies so we can better spot warning signs, even when they are dubious.
Dr. Nina’s What You Need to Know About 3 Deadly Medical Emergencies
Pulmonary embolism (PE): blockage of an artery in our lungs by an embolus. This funny sounding word is defined as a substance that has travelled from another part of our body. In most cases, it is usually a blood clot that developed in a leg vein, known as a deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Any type of blockage prevents the delivery of oxygen and essential nutrients (e.g. glucose) to an organ and can result in tissue death within minutes.
Risk Factors for a PE include:
- Immobility: long plane or car ride; following surgery; extended bed rest
- After severe injuries, burns, or fractures of the hips or thigh bone
- After childbirth
Potential Warning Signs for PE include:
- Chest pain, typically under the breastbone or on one side, that is described as sharp/stabbing, burning, aching, or a heavy sensation. It usually worsens with deep breaths.
- Fast breathing or heart rate
- Anxiety, light-headedness or feeling dizzy
- Sudden cough that may be bloody
Stroke. This condition describes the death of brain cells when the blood supply is decreased or interrupted. Acting quickly is key and there is a saying: “time lost, is brain lost.”
Risk Factors for Stroke include:
- High blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, obesity
- Family history, increased age
- Smoking, heavy drinking, drug abuse
Potential Warning Signs for Stroke. The American Stroke Association has a useful pneumonic called FAST:
- Face Drooping: ask the person to smile and see if the smile is uneven
- Arm Weakness: ask the person to raise both arms and see if one arm drifts downward
- Speech Difficulty: as the person to say a simple sentence, like “The sky is blue” and see if it is repeated correctly
- Time to call 9-1-1: even if the symptoms go away.
Suicide. Every year, more people kill themselves than get killed by homicide. And for every suicide, the loved ones left behind are left with tremendous grief.
Risk Factors for Suicide include:
- Mental disorders (depression, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders)
- Substance abuse, including alcohol
- History of a traumatic event or abuse
- Previous suicide attempt or family history of suicide
- Loss of a job, money, or relationship
- Exposure to others who have died by suicide, referred to as suicide contagion
Potential Warning Signs for Suicide include:
- Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves
- Looking for a way to kill themselves (buying a gun, researching);
- Talking about feeling hopeless, being in unbearable pain or a burden to others, or having no reason to live
- Increasing the use of drugs or alcohol; behaving recklessly
- Withdrawing or isolating themselves
If only our bodies were as simple as a signal light—red, yellow, and green. However, by learning about these deadly conditions, their risk factors, and warning signs, we may be able to better spot the yellow light before it becomes red; even when it is dubious. If you, or a loved one, are experiencing potential warning signs for these medical emergencies, call 9-1-1.
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Notice: This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither Dr. Nina Radcliff or Kimberly Cecchini take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.
Before engaging in any complementary medical technique, including the use of natural or herbal remedies, you should be aware that many of these techniques have not been evaluated in scientific studies. Use of these remedies in connection with over the counter or prescription medications can cause severe adverse reactions. Often, only limited information is available about their safety and effectiveness.