When to seek Emergency Care

Patients are encouraged to try a pain medicine before coming into the Emergency Department. However, there are specific symptoms that should not be ignored. Please see below.

Chest Pain

Chest pain should never be ignored. Know the following signs of a heart attack, and if you or someone else experiences any of these symptoms, do not wait - get help immediately. Consider calling an ambulance right away.

It's important to remember that certain diseases such as hypertension and diabetes can mask chest pain, so if you are experiencing any other signs of a heart attack, do not hesitate, call an ambulance immediately.

  • Chest pain or discomfort that is unrelieved by rest or change in position, moves to shoulders, arms, neck, jaw or back, or produces pressure or a squeezing sensation that is either constant or intermittent
  • Unexplained shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort
  • Heart palpitations or abnormally weak and/or fast pulse
  • Lightheadedness, dizziness, fainting or nausea
  • Gray facial color

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Every minute counts when stroke, or brain attack, happens. In order to prevent further damage to the brain – or worse – it is crucial to act so treatment can begin. If you suspect you or someone you know is having a stroke, call 9-1-1 immediately. Remember the FAST acronym (Face, Arms, Speech, Time).

  • Face: look for facial droop by asking the person to smile. Is the face numb?
  • Arms: can the person raise both arms equally, or does one drift downward? Is one arm weak or numb?
  • Speech: can the person repeat a simple sentence correctly? Does the person have trouble understanding the request, trouble responding or slurred speech?
  • Time: if a person shows any of these symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately.  Also note the time when the first symptoms appeared as this could be an important part of treatment.

UPMC Pinnacle Hanover is a Primary Stroke Center.  Learn more here.

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Pneumonia is an infection or inflammation of the lungs that can produce a wide variety of symptoms. Pneumonia varies widely in severity, but can be particularly life-threatening in the elderly, people with pre-existing heart or lung conditions, people with suppressed or weakened immunity, or in pregnant women. If you believe you have pneumonia or are experiencing any of the following symptoms, please contact your doctor or emergency care immediately.

  • Persistent cough, especially one producing rust or green colored mucus
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain that changes as you breath
  • Difficult or labored breathing
  • Fever, especially a prolonged high fever, or accompanied with chills
  • Feeling worse after a bout with the cold or flu

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Asthma is a severe condition where the airways are extremely sensitive to various allergens and other irritants. Once diagnosed, this condition can be kept under control through the use of drugs and inhalers. However, a severe attack may require medical attention. Contact your doctor or go to the hospital right away if you or your child experiences any of the following symptoms:

  • Extreme difficulty breathing
  • Rescue medication does not help
  • Your peak flow continues to drop after treatment or falls below 50% of your best
  • Fingernails or lips turn bluish or grayish in color

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Abdominal Pain

Abdominal pain can occur for many reasons, with widely varying degrees of severity. Severe pain can indicate several different conditions, from constipation to appendicitis, and should not be ignored. If medical attention is needed, do not eat or drink before coming to the Emergency Department in case of certain testing or surgery. A urine specimen is almost always required. Be sure to seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of the following symptoms, especially if you are pregnant (or think you might be), have recently had abdominal surgery, or have a history of diverticulitis:

  • Stomach tender to touch
  • Fever over 101 degrees
  • Stools that contain blood or mucus, or are black and tarry
  • Blood in the urine
  • Vomiting blood
  • Pain that also spreads to or starts in the back or groin
  • Lower abdominal pain during urination.

Appendicitis is an especially sensitive emergency. An inflamed appendix can rupture (burst), causing severe infection and even death. If you experience the following symptoms, be sure to seek medical treatment immediately. Also, if your child complains of a stomachache, be sure to watch for these symptoms and seek medical care immediately.

  • Pain or aching in the right side of the abdomen, sometimes accompanied with swelling
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Low fever that starts after pain begins

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Headaches or Migraines

Headaches are a very common occurrence, and, in some people, so are migraine headaches. But should you ever go to the emergency room because of headache? In some cases the answer is yes.

While you should never hesitate to seek emergency care, following are headache symptoms that definitely require medical attention. These symptoms can be indicative of more severe medical conditions, and require immediate treatment.

  • Severe headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Any changes in vision
  • Recent head injury
  • Recent unconsciousness
  • Numbness or tingling in the arms or legs
  • History of high blood pressure

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Alcohol or Other Drug Emergency

Alcohol poisoning can be fatal. If someone has had too much to drink or hurt themselves while drinking, call for help immediately and stay with the person until help arrives. Call for help if someone can't be roused or is incoherent and

  • Is vomiting, or
  • Has shallow, irregular breathing, or
  • Has cold, "clammy" skin, or
  • Looks bluish or pale, or
  • Has taken other drugs with alcohol

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