The Safety Net

Signs and Symptoms of Injury or Illness: What To Tell The Health Professional


When you or someone you know well doesnít feel right, it might be time to think about contacting a physician or other health professional for advice. Sometimes we donít feel well, but others who know us well may be the first to notice a change. With children, for instance, mothers may notice that the child is eating less and sleeping more even though the child does not complain about being sick.

In order to be prepared for health emergencies, every home should have a list of numbers located near the telephone. These numbers should be easy to read and include the following: a reminder that 911 is for all emergencies (ambulance, fire, police); a doctor or a nurse who knows you and wants you to call when you need advice; or a close family member or friend to be called when you need help.

When calling a health professional (physician or nurse) it is extremely important to communicate the reason for your call and to clearly identify the signs and symptoms of the individualís illness or injury. If you are calling for yourself or for a friend, there are certain things that must be communicated and these are identified on the list that follows. The list can be printed and used as a reminder of all the things to tell the health practitioner. It is so easy to forget what you should say in these stressful situations.

For Emergencies, When You Need Help Immediately: CALL 911
Tell the operator, Who you are; Where you are; What is happening; When it started; and stay on the phone until help arrives or the dispatcher (the person who answers the 911 call) says to hang up.

Things to Remember When Calling for Urgent Medical Advice

If the person appears sick, these are some things to remember:

  • Describe how the person looks (pale, flushed, tearful, unusual look on his or her face or unusual posture). When describing the consumerís look, take into consideration the ethnic background or the natural skin.
  • Explain any changes in behavior or level of activity (excited, drowsy, confused).
  • Tell what the person says is wrong or where it hurts.
  • When did the symptoms (signs of illness) begin?
  • Is the person eating or drinking? (good appetite/no appetite, very thirsty)?
  • Has the person vomited or had diarrhea? Any problems urinating? Is the urine a dark color or look unusual?
  • Tell the vital signs, if you know them, such as body temperature, pulse and rate of breathing.
  • Tell any recent history of similar problems, any recent injury or illness, and long term health problems.
  • Identify all known allergies.
  • Be ready to list medications the person is taking.

If the individual appears to be hurt or injured, the following things should be relayed to the person taking your call:

  • Cause of the injury
  • The size, location, and severity of the wound/injury
  • Visible signs that the person canít move or is bleeding

Stay on the line until the person gets the help he or she needs. If you think the health care professional did not understand how serious the situation is or if it gets worse, call 911.


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