Man with pain, clasping chest
Older woman feeling dizzy, leaning against wall
Woman lying down on sofa, clasping her chest
Woman fallen on the floor, with her cane and glasses nearby

Emergency Symptoms You Shouldn’t Ignore

By on 06/19/2020

When COVID-19 hit emergency departments, visits for everything else dropped significantly. A recent study found that nationwide the number of ED visits in April was 42% lower than a year earlier.

There were particularly big drops in visits for chest, muscle or belly pain; nausea and vomiting; asthma attacks and non-COVID infections, among other conditions.

Many of these can be signs and symptoms of serious conditions such as heart attack, severe infections or stroke.

“We know that people are still getting sick,” says Elizabeth Datner, MD, Chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Einstein Healthcare Network.  “We are worried that patients are not seeking care they need when they need it, maybe because they are afraid of getting COVID.”

There’s no need to be afraid to seek care, she says. Einstein has taken many steps to keep patients safe and to separate those with possible COVID infection from others. Find out more about safety procedures in the Einstein Emergency Department.

If you have any of the symptoms below – especially if you have more than one – you should seek medical help. Either call your doctor, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department, Dr. Datner says.

NOTE: This list does not include every possible serious symptom. If you have any symptoms that concern you, be sure to review them with your primary care provider or come to the ED for evaluation.


Heart attack symptoms

  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach
  • Shortness of breath, nausea or sweating, with or without pain

Other pain

  • Sudden, severe headache
  • Severe pain in the abdomen that won’t go away
  • Pain or burning when you urinate
  • Sudden, unexplained pain anywhere in your body
  • If you usually have pain, a change in the pattern or frequency of pain

Breathing problems

  • Shortness of breath, or rapid breathing
  • Severe wheezing
  • Coughing that doesn’t stop, or coughing up yellow or green sputum or blood

Change in mental state or body function

Man with face drooping on one side after suffering a stroke

Stroke symptoms

  • Weakness or drooping in your face
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty talking
  • Sudden, severe headache
  • Sudden weakness or problems with moving any part of your body
  • Sudden vision problems, such as blurry or double vision
  • Fainting or dizziness

Other symptoms

  • Seizure, especially if you’ve never had one before or you are pregnant or have diabetes
  • Back pain along with fever or other symptoms above
Man in pain, clutching abdomen

Stomach and intestinal symptoms

  • Severe pain in the abdomen that won’t go away
  • Vomiting or diarrhea that is severe or won’t go away or looks like blood or coffee grounds
  • Diarrhea or stools that are bloody or black
  • Vomiting after a recent head injury


  • High fever, especially with other symptoms
  • Pain or burning with urination
  • Increased or more frequent urination
  • Severe cough
  • Chills or shaking
  • Shortness of breath
  • Stiff neck
  • Redness, soreness or swelling of any area
  • Diarrhea or vomiting
Woman with head inury

Injury or wound

  • Possible broken bone after a fall or other trauma
  • Recent head injury, especially if you are 65 or older or also have vomiting, nausea or confusion
  • Severe burns
  • Uncontrolled bleeding
  • Severe pain in the abdomen that won’t go away, especially along with vomiting

Allergic reaction

  • Swelling of lips, face, tongue or throat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty swallowing

Crisis in a long-term condition

High blood pressure

  • Rapid and severe increase in blood pressure, with readings of 180/120 or greater
  • Any symptoms of heart attack or stroke (above)


Hypoglycemia (very low blood sugar)

  • Feeling faint, dizzy or shaky
  • Sweating, shaking or chills
  • Confusion
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Blurred vision
  • Seizures
  • Passing out

Hyperglycemia (very high blood sugar)

  • Constant thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Dark urine
  • Breath that smells fruity
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Very dry mouth
Woman wheezing and clasping chest


  • Shortness of breath
  • Persistent wheezing

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD)

  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough with a change in the color of your sputum

Congestive Heart Failure

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weight gain
  • Increased swelling

This list includes symptoms of many common emergencies. However, Dr. Datner says, “Be sure to contact your doctor or call 911 about any change in your usual level of well-being or health that is concerning to you.”

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Perspectives highlights the expertise and services provided by the physicians, specialists, nurses and other healthcare providers at Einstein Healthcare Network. Through this blog, we share information about new treatments and technologies, top-tier clinical teams and the day-to-day interactions that reinforce our commitment to delivering quality care with compassion. Here, you will also find practical advice for championing your health and wellness. The Einstein Healthcare Network "Terms of Use" apply to all content on this blog.