Should I, may I or must I? Many people are unsure when they can request help from an emergency service by calling 112 - with negative consequences: On the one hand, emergency doctors are increasingly being called to patients who could have been helped by their family doctor. However, ignorance also means that patients at risk may wait too long before contacting the emergency services. This is critical, every minute counts in an emergency.
In principle, an emergency doctor should be called if the patient's life is in danger, explains Professor Peter Sefrin, federal doctor at the German Red Cross (DRK). This is always the case when the patient's "vital functions" are disturbed or have failed - "i.e. consciousness, breathing or circulation".
However, it is often difficult for the layperson to judge when a human life is in acute danger and the emergency doctor needs to be called. Our overview provides initial guidance:
"A consciousness disorder occurs when the patient no longer responds to speech or painful stimuli and the body becomes limp," explains Peter Sefrin. "If the patient no longer moves, this is a sign of unconsciousness. This condition is particularly dangerous. If the person lies on their back, the tongue falls back and blocks the airways. Foreign bodies such as stomach contents or blood can also get into the lungs. There is a risk of respiratory arrest, which can lead to the patient's death."
"In emergency medicine, we differentiate between two different critical conditions: breathing disorder and respiratory arrest. A breathing disorder occurs when the patient breathes too slowly and does not get enough oxygen. Breathing too quickly is also problematic: it causes it to occur in the body There is a drop in carbon dioxide. Breathing can also be obstructed by foreign bodies. If the patient breathes in and a wheezing noise occurs, it is very likely that a foreign body has entered the lungs or there is swelling in the airways. A whistling sound when exhaling usually indicates an asthma attack. These symptoms are easy to recognize even for a layperson."
"A circulatory disorder occurs when blood pressure is too high or too low. Very low blood pressure indicates shock: the patient is extremely pale, beads of sweat form on the face, and the color may turn bluish. Extremely high blood pressure is manifested by a bright red complexion and can lead to a stroke. Many illnesses can lead to a sudden cardiac arrest. The pulse can then no longer be felt."
"Sudden paralysis almost always indicates a stroke. The paralysis can affect a foot, a hand or an entire half of the body. The disorder can also affect the face: it looks crooked, the corner of the mouth hangs, the eyelid is closed on one side. Speech is slurred and vision problems may occur."
"Not every pain is automatically a case for an emergency doctor. 112 should only be called if pain occurs suddenly and is severe. The layman would say: an unbearable pain. It doesn't matter where the pain occurs. Severe , Acute headaches can indicate a bleeding in the brain. An acute pain in the chest area indicates a heart attack, almost unbearable pain in the abdominal area indicates a thrombosis in the area of the intestinal loops. However, if the pain increases gradually and increases over the course of a few days, this is the case As a rule, it is not an acute emergency. However, the symptoms should still be clarified promptly by the family doctor or with the help of the contracted medical on-call service (number 116 117)."
"A case for the emergency doctor is bleeding whenever the patient loses a lot of blood and develops circulatory problems. Young patients are a special case: They are able to compensate for major blood losses over a longer period of time without experiencing circulatory problems . Then you have to pay attention to the amount of blood lost: If the amount is more than 500 milliliters, it becomes critical. In principle, if you lose a lot of blood, it is important to call the emergency number once too often rather than once too rarely. The same applies for hemoptysis when large amounts of blood are lost."
Sick people who are not in acute danger of death can also contact the medical on-call service. He can be reached on 116 117 (nationwide, without area code) and looks after patients who need help outside of medical consultation hours.