Don't delay: Go to the emergency department if you have these symptoms

When to go to the emergency department

Emergency departments across Yale New Haven Health are helping to treat patients with COVID-19. But those doctors are still committed to helping patients with other emergencies. If you have symptoms related to COVID-19, such as fever, cough and difficulty breathing, call your doctor before you head to the emergency room. However, if you are experiencing another medical emergency, get immediate help.

Signs of a stroke:

Joseph Schindler, MD, clinical director of the Yale New Haven Health Stroke Center, said they saw a decrease in stroke patients coming to the hospital in the beginning of the pandemic. Dr. Schindler said patients who have minor signs of stroke may be reluctant to go to the emergency department because they’re afraid of being exposed to COVID-19. But even minor symptoms need attention.

“Stroke is a neurological emergency and there are time sensitive treatments for strokes so it’s of upmost importance that when someone has symptoms of a stroke, that they call 911 and get to the emergency room immediately,” Dr. Schindler said.

Stroke is the sudden loss of neurological function caused by a disruption to the blood supply to the brain or spinal cord. Most strokes are caused by a blockage of a blood vessel to the brain. Common symptoms include a sudden onset of a severe headache, weakness on one side of the body such as facial droop, difficulty speaking, vision loss and incoordination of the body. 

Some of the patients who are at high risk of stroke may be isolated and family members who would normally notice the signs of stroke are not around. Dr. Schindler commented that social networks are important in recognizing stroke and recommends staying in regular contact with loved ones, while practicing proper social distancing. 

If there is an emergency, the team at the stroke center is taking the proper precautions to protect every patient from COVID-19.

“Please know that if you do come to the emergency department at Yale New Haven Hospital, that we’ll evaluate you in a safe way to protect you and the practitioners that treat you,” Dr. Schindler said.

Chest pains:

Basmah Safdar, MD, director of the Yale New Haven Hospital Chest Pain Center, said there was a nearly 40% decrease in patients presenting chest pains in March of 2020, compared to previous months. Doctors are worried people are staying home, even if they’re suffering from a heart attack. “We are worried about these patients because without immediate treatment they may die or suffer lifelong disability. Heart attacks are still the number one cause of death in the United States.” 

The most common symptoms of a heart attack includes discomfort in the chest, shortness of breath and cold sweats. Patients who are at a higher risk for heart attack include older patients, those with kidney disease, who are diabetic, have high blood pressure and or cholesterol, or are smokers or have existing heart disease. 

“If somebody’s feeling that they’re having a heart attack, we recommend you call 911, come to the emergency department, and let us check you out,” Dr. Safdar said. “If you’re having symptoms that have been ongoing for a while, or you’re having it with fever and cough and you don’t think it’s a heart attack, at least call your doctor to understand what’s happening and to make sure that it’s something that’s not dangerous or worrisome.”

Go to the emergency department for:

  • Chest pain
  • Trouble breathing
  • Uncontrolled bleeding
  • Head injuries
  • Serious cuts
  • Broken bones
  • Severe allergic reactions
  • Speech difficulty
  • Rapid change in vision
  • Sudden onset of a serious headache
  • Weakness or numbness in arms, legs or face
  • Sexual assault

If you need to see a doctor for a non-medical emergency, try telehealth services, which uses video and electronic records to provide care.

Learn more about telehealth services offered by Yale New Haven Health