Medical emergency

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]

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A medical emergency is an injury or illness that poses an immediate threat to a person's life or long term health. These emergencies may require assistance from another person, who should ideally be suitably qualified to do so, although some of these emergencies can be dealt with by the victim themselves. Dependant on the severity of the emergency, and the quality of any treatment given, it may require the involvement of multiple levels of care, from a first aider to an emergency physician through to specialist surgeons.

Any response to an emergency medical situation will depend strongly on the situation, the patient involved and availability of resources to help them. It will also vary depending on whether the emergency occurs whilst in hospital under medical care, or outside of any care (for instance, in the street)


For emergencies starting outside of medical care, a key component of providing proper care is to summon the emergency medical services (usually an ambulance), by calling for help using the appropriate local emergency telephone number, such as 911 or 999. The emergency dispatchers will generally run through a questioning system such as AMPDS in order to assess the priority level of the call, along with the caller's name and location.

Those trained to perform first aid can act within the bounds of the knowledge they have, whilst awaiting the next level of definitive care. Those who are not able to perform first aid can also assist by remaining calm and staying with the injured or ill person. A common complaint of emergency service personnel is the propensity of people to crowd around the scene of victim, as it is generally unhelpful, making the patient more stressed, and obstructing the smooth working of the emergency services.

The principles of the chain of survival apply to medical emergencies where the patient has an absence of breathing and heartbeat. This involves the four stages of Early access, Early CPR, Early defibrillation and Early advanced life support

Unless the situation is particularly hazardous, and is likely to further endanger the patient, evacuating the victim requires special skills, and should be left to the professionals of the emergency medical and fire service.

Clinical response

Within hospital settings, an adequate staff is generally present to deal with the average emergency situation. Emergency medicine physicians have training to deal with most medical emergencies, and maintain CPR and ACLS certifications. In disasters or complex emergencies, most hospitals have protocols to summon on-site and off-site staff rapidly.

Both emergency room and inpatient medical emergencies follow the basic protocol of Advanced Cardiac Life Support. Irrespective of the nature of the emergency, adequate blood pressure and oxygenation are required before the cause of the emergency can be eliminated. Possible exceptions include the clamping of arteries in severe hemorrhage.

See also

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