Five times you should definitely go to the ER

Maybe you've got a weird pain in your jaw or a searing headache. Maybe you simply don't feel right. When something is off in your body, you can't always tell whether it's worth it to call the doctor, let alone rush to the ER. "It's easy to say, 'Oh I'm young, I'm healthy, I can't be having an emergency, so why should I go in?'" says Megan Fix, MD, assistant professor at the University of Utah School of Medicine. But serious medical crises -- concussions, appendicitis, even a stroke -- can happen to healthy women of any age.

With that in mind, we asked doctors what symptoms they would tell their friends to head to the ER for. Here are five times you shouldn't think twice.

    You feel a dull ache in your chest and are unusually short of breath

    Think about: A ruptured aneurysm or stroke. People who've had a ruptured aneurysm (a burst blood vessel) in their brain often complain about feeling the worst headache of their life. The pain often starts suddenly. "That could signal bleeding within the brain," says Dr. Evans. You may also be unable to think clearly, fumble with speech, or have problems with vision, swallowing, or movement, symptoms that could indicate either a brain bleed or a blocked artery in the brain (aka ischemic stroke).
    What to do: If any headache feels exceptional (it's more intense than normal, say, or it comes with dizziness or vomiting for the first time), book it to an ER. The faster you get treatment, the better. Don't be embarrassed if it's a false alarm. As Linda Regan, MD, assistant professor of emergency medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, puts it, "Telling patients it's nothing is what all ER doctors hope for."

    How to be prepared for an emergency

    Knowing what you'll do in an emergency is key to surviving one. Your ER plan:
    Call 911: If you can't move, you're bleeding heavily, or you have symptoms of a heart attack or stroke, you need an ambulance. EMS personnel can provide lifesaving care en route and determine the best hospital for your needs.

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    Or (sometimes) get a ride: As long as you can walk to a car and do not have the symptoms listed above, someone -- a friend, a taxi -- can take you to the hospital. Don't drive yourself; and when in doubt, call 911.
    Go to the closest hospital: When transporting yourself to the ER, your priority should be to get there as quickly as possible. They'll stabilize you and transfer you to another hospital if needed.
    Make a list: "If you're unable to respond to EMS providers' questions, they'll look in your wallet for info," says Dr. McGann. "Keep a list there of meds you take along with emergency contacts." As a backup use an app, like the Health app in iOS or ICE Standard for Android, that can store info on your lock screen.

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