Four Signs You Need Immediate Medical Help

Posted by on Sep 8, 2021 in Health Emergencies | 0 comments

With today’s overtaxed health care system, we don’t want to seek medical attention unless it is necessary. Nor do we want to sit for hours in the Emergency Department - only to be told that the problem is a minor one.

A senior might ignore symptoms, hoping that the problem will go away. They might think the symptoms are “normal at their age” and not seek treatment for treatable problems. Or they might fear a diagnosis and not want to face treatment.

Sometimes, delay and avoidance can have serious consequences. Here are four important signs and symptoms that require immediate medical attention.

Changes in mental state

Sudden confusion and disorientation, or delirium, is cause for immediate concern. Significant changes in thinking or behaviour are not normal and can be caused by:

  • infection
  • head injury
  • stroke
  • low blood pressure, and/or
  • medications.

Seeing flashes of light

Very brief flashes of light in the peripheral part of the vision can be a sign of retinal detachment. The retina is a thin layer of light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. To save vision in the affected eye, seek immediate medical care. 

New or more severe headaches (especially if you’re over age 50)

If you never or rarely have headaches and experience a sudden, persistent and severe headache you should seek urgent medical attention. Other symptoms that warrant urgent attention include:

  • Sudden headache with stiff neck, or fever, or mental confusion
  • Headache following a fall, injury, or blow to the head

Shortness of breath

If you have sudden, severe shortness of breath accompanied by chest pain or tightness, call 911. See your doctor right away if you are feeling short of breath and have other symptoms, such as:

  •  High fever and chills
  • Wheezing and coughing without exertion
  • Swollen feet and ankles and difficulty breathing when you lie down

Other worrisome symptoms

Many provinces have telephone advice and health information services that operate 24 hours/day, 7 days a week. Trained registered nurses provide advice about health symptoms and help direct you to appropriate services. Here are some examples:

 Health Link Alberta 

Call from anywhere in the province by dialing:
Calgary Health Region (403) 943-5465, Capital Health Region (780) 408-5465, or Toll-Free 1-866-408-5465

Health Link BC
Just three numbers - 8-1-1 - on the phone or online at  for non-emergency health information and services. Translation services are available in over 130 languages on request. For deaf and hearing-impaired assistance (TTY), call 7-1-1.

Telehealth Ontario
You do not need to provide your health insurance number and all information is confidential. 1-866-797-0000     TTY : 1-866-797-0007

Try searching online under “health link service” for other provinces. Accessing health link services may help you get timely answers and make an informed decision when troubling medical symptoms arise.

© ElderWise, 2010.
Vol. 6, No. 8
You have permission to reprint this or any other ElderWise INFO article, provided you reproduce it in its entirety, acknowledge our copyright, and include the following statement: Originally published by ElderWise, Canada’ go-to place for “age-smart” planning. Visit us at and subscribe to our FREE e-newsletter.


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