Symptoms to never ignore – even during a pandemic

photo courtesy UCHealth | Many people are keeping their distance from hospitals and doctors’ offiices during this pandemic, but it's critical to continue to get treatment for medical emergencies.
photo courtesy UCHealth | Many people are keeping their distance from hospitals and doctors’ offiices during this pandemic, but it's critical to continue to get treatment for medical emergencies.

by Susan Cunningham UCHealth

The novel coronavirus has made people rethink their movements — how often they go to the grocery story, for example — but one thing COVID shouldn’t scare people from doing: calling 911 during a medical emergency.

Dr. Nathan Anderson, an emergency medicine physician at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, explains what symptoms shouldn’t be ignored, even during a pandemic.

Symptoms of stroke

If you suddenly have a hard time talking, struggle to control or move your limbs, or experience facial weakness or drooping, you may be having a stroke. Seek help immediately.

“Time is tissue, time is brain,” Anderson said. “The sooner we have a chance to diagnose and intervene, the better the outcome.”
Often with a stroke, it’s up to an observer to call 911 for help.
“Someone experiencing a stroke really is in no position to do anything and must rely on those around them.”

Chest pain
An unusual pain, pressure or tightness in the chest or anywhere else in the upper trunk, such as the mid-back, shoulder or base of the neck, may be a sign of a heart attack.
Keep in mind that symptoms can be very different for each individual. Pain may be steady, or may come and go. It may be so severe it feels heavy or crushing, or it may feel mild but strange.

Pain may also be accompanied by nausea or indigestion, sweating, shortness of breath, fatigue and lightheadedness. Never try to ride out the symptoms of a heart attack.

“So many times people will say, ‘I didn’t think it was anything,’ or ‘I didn’t want to bother you,’” Anderson said. “But again, time is tissue. Injury can progress in untreated heart problems.”

Difficulty breathing
If you’re short of breath, drawing a breath without getting any benefit from the air, or having trouble breathing, seek medical attention.

“If it’s hard to breathe, that needs attention,” Anderson said. “Nothing is so elemental to life and imminently threatening as the inability to breathe.”

Issues such as asthma, pulmonary embolism, pneumonia and chronic lung disease may be
to blame. Since shortness of breath is a symptom of COVID-19, be honest with the 911 dispatcher and let him or her know that you may have the virus so that emergency responders can protect themselves.

Trauma, burns and head pain
If you experience serious trauma, such as a bad fall – especially one in which you hurt your head or spine – seek medical attention immediately. Similarly, get help for serious burns, or burns that are deep, large, turn the skin dry and leathery, look charred, or have portions
that are white, brown or black.

And never ignore a serious, sudden headache, especially when it presents with fever, confusion, faintness or loss of consciousness. A headache of that intensity could signal a serious issue, such as a stroke or very high blood pressure.

Abdominal pain
An unusual pain in the abdominal area, or anywhere below the ribs and above the hips, can be cause for seeking emergency medical help, especially if the pain is new, severe, or accompanied by nausea, vomiting and fever.
There are various causes of abdominal pain, including appendicitis, kidney stones, a tumor, diverticulitis and complications of undiagnosed pregnancies.

Remember: in many cases, seconds count. And even with the threat of COVID-19, it’s important to address serious medical conditions. Don’t hesitate to call 911 and go to the emergency department when it’s necessary.

“More and more injury can be occurring as time is passing,” Anderson said. “It’s better to overreact and over respond and be reassured, then to underreact and under-respond and miss the chance to intervene meaningfully.”