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Overview of emergencies

Any serious injury, symptom, or condition that poses an immediate risk to someone's life or body qualifies as a medical emergency.

If a person is experiencing an altered mental state, has trouble breathing, has uncontrollable bleeding, or has experienced trauma, get them to an emergency care facility as soon as possible.

Medical emergencies need to be addressed by a trained medical professional right away. If you or someone else are experiencing an emergency, call 911 immediately.

Dignity Health locations have the tools and expert medical personnel on hand to quickly and effectively address medical emergencies.

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Common types

Life-threatening medical conditions can be acute attacks of chronic conditions, or isolated events.

Some examples of emergency situations include:

  • Severe asthma attack
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Choking
  • Chest pain or other symptoms of a heart attack, such as pain in the back or jaw, weakness, exhaustion, or shortness of breath
  • Symptoms of a stroke, such as difficulty speaking, weakness on one side of the body, or drooping facial features
  • Severe allergic reaction
  • Head injury or trauma
  • Severe or persistent vomiting or diarrhea
  • Injury to the neck or spine
  • Sudden numbness or weakness in arms or legs
  • Diabetic emergency
  • Seizure
  • Signs of severe illness such as high fever, stiff neck, and dehydration
  • Coughing or throwing up blood
  • Signs of infection such as swelling, pus, and red lines around a wound or other injury
  • Sudden, severe headache or migraine
  • Mental health emergency (such as suicidal thoughts or actions, intentions of harming self or others, or altered mental states)
  • Sharp or severe pain or pressure in the gut or abdomen, lower back, or pelvis
  • Collapse or loss of consciousness
  • Serious burns (burns on the face, eyes, genitals, a major joint, or hands; burns that are more than surface-level; or burns that extend over more than 3 inches)
  • Severe bleeding (bleeding that cannot be controlled or involves an impaled object or visible bone or tissue)
  • Acute traumatic injury which threatens "life or limb"
  • Poisoning or inhaling/ingesting excessive amounts of substances such as prescription medications, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, drugs, or alcohol

It is essential for people experiencing these conditions or symptoms to receive timely medical care to prevent further complications.

A broken ankle is an injury to the bones that make up your ankle, including the talus (ankle bone) and the ends of the tibia (shin bone) and fibula (calf bone).


The symptoms and degree of damage or disability you experience will depend on how many bones are involved and the severity of your ankle fracture.

Signs of a broken ankle can include:

  • Bruising
  • Deformity
  • Difficulty walking or bearing weight
  • Pain or tenderness
  • Swelling

You may also notice changes in your gait, such as walking differently, limping, and feeling unstable.


An injury typically causes a broken ankle. This includes rolling or twisting your ankle during everyday activities.

Broken ankles are also caused by impact from falls, sports, or vehicle collisions.

Stress fractures often occur as a result of overuse or repeated high-impact activities.


Ankle fractures can be caused by a direct impact that breaks one or more of the bones that comprise the ankle. They can also be caused by rolling or twisting the ankle, overflexing or extending the joint, or landing on the feet from a height.

Fractures can be:

  • Displaced: involving the movement of the bone so that the pieces are misaligned or in the wrong place
  • Non-displaced: in which the broken bones remain in place

Non-displaced ankle fractures can also be categorized based on whether the break is complete or not:

  • Complete fractures occur when the bone is completely broken into two pieces
  • Partial fractures occur when the bone is only partially cracked

Depending on what part of the ankle is broken, your ankle fracture can be further categorized as follows:

  • Lateral malleolus fracture: involving the “bump” on the end of your tibia on the outside of your ankle
  • Bimalleolar ankle fracture: involving the “bumps” on both the inside and outside of your ankle
  • Trimalleolar ankle fracture: involving both “bumps” on the end of your tibia, as well as the base of the fibula
  • Pilond ankle fracture: involving the top of the ankle bone or talus; this break is less common and is usually from falling from a height straight down onto the foot

Ankle fractures often, but not always, involve soft tissue injuries such as ligament tears.

Risk factors

Athletes and older adults are typically at higher risk for ankle injuries.

This is because bones tend to become weaker with age, and those engaged in high-impact sports are more likely to experience impact-related injuries.


Accidental injuries typically cause broken bones.

While it’s not possible to eliminate the risk of accidents, you can reduce your risk of fractures by managing your activities and overall bone health:

  • Use caution when engaging in high-impact sports. Activities like soccer, basketball, football, climbing, and skiing are all common causes of ankle injuries.
  • Use supportive footwear to reduce the chance of a rolled ankle.
  • Consume sufficient calcium and vitamin D to keep your bones strong.
  • Engage in weight-bearing exercise often to maintain bone strength as you age. Activities such as walking, hiking, and jogging, which all involve a heel strike, are especially beneficial.
  • Strengthen the ligaments protecting your ankle bones; your soft tissue stabilizes your joint and can help prevent ankle injuries.

Common tests

Emergency room intake procedures aim to evaluate the severity and status of a medical emergency as quickly as possible.

Standard tests used to evaluate an emergency situation include:

  • Body temperature
  • Blood pressure
  • Pulse
  • Blood oxygen level (using pulse oximetry)
  • Cardiac (heart) monitoring such as an electrocardiogram (EKG)

After intake, tests and procedures in the emergency department vary depending on the type of emergency. They may include:

  • Blood work
  • Urine testing
  • Imaging tests such as x-rays, ultrasounds, PET scans, MRIs, and CT scans
  • Medications given orally or via an IV

Dignity Health offers prompt, caring, and expert care for all emergencies. Our staff members are skilled at assessing the situation and collecting the information that they need to make informed and accurate decisions. If you or someone else is experiencing a medical emergency, call 911 as soon as possible.

The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.