Patient Education

A medical emergency is a critical or life-threatening situation or a severe painful condition. If you or someone else requires urgent medical assistance, every second counts. The four most common reasons for visiting a hospital ER or an emergency care center include having symptoms of heart attack, stroke, kidney infection or rash. Learn to recognize the warning signs.

Heart Attack Symptoms
Most heart attacks involve several symptoms: 


  • Chest discomfort. Heart attacks involve some discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or discomfort that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath. This may occur with or without chest discomfort.
  • Other signs. These may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or feeling lightheaded.


Women tend to have heart attacks about 10 years later than men and are less likely to recognize the symptoms of a heart attack, often not seeking treatment right away. A woman’s symptoms may be slightly different that those of men, so it's important to recognize the symptoms:  


  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness
  • Unusual fatigue
  • Cold sweat
  • Dizziness
  • Pain or pressure in the back or high chest
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms
  • Discomfort may be described as pressure, ache, or tightness; may come and go
  • A burning sensation in the chest or upper abdomen
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Nausea

Stroke Symptoms
When it comes to a stroke, remember to think F.A.S.T.  

  • Face. Does the face look uneven? Ask the person to smile.
  • Arms. Does one arm drift down? Ask the person to raise both arms.
  • Speech. Does their speech sound strange? Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase.
  • Time. If you observe any of these signs, it is time to call 911.


Kidney Infection Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of a kidney infection may include: 


  • Fever
  • Back, side or groin pain
  • Abdominal pain
  • Frequent urination
  • Strong, persistent urge to urinate
  • Burning sensation or pain when urinating
  • Pus or blood in  urine


Rash Symptoms
Common categories of rash often present certain skin changes: 

  • Scaly patches of skin (may be caused by fungal or bacterial infection or other reasons)
  • Red, itchy bumps or patches over the body, such as on the chest and back


With a heat rash, you may get small, itchy red bumps on the skin and it may feel prickly, stinging or burning.

You should call your doctor if the rash does not go away on its own within a few days or if you develop an infection in an area where you recently had heat rash.


Determining When to Go to the Emergency Room

Dr. Jeremy Finkelstein explains when chest pain, abdominal pain or fever is a reason to visit an ER.   

Why Should I Call 911?

When you are having an emergency medical problem, getting to treatment is critical, so every minute counts — that is why it is so important to call 911.


  • 911 dispatchers are trained to not only locate you quickly, but also assist you in early treatment options.
  • Emergency Medical Services (EMS) can diagnose a heart attack by using an electrocardiogram (ECG) and initiate early treatment.
  • EMS is able to radio ahead to the emergency room that you are on your way. This enables the staff to be ready for you when you arrive.


To learn more about emergency care at Houston Methodist, visit Frequently Asked Questions about emergency care. For a quick way to understand the difference between an urgent care facility and our emergency care centers, download this brochure.