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Advice from A&E doctors: Life-threatening signs and symptoms you should never ignore

Severe abdominal pain? Bleeding that won’t stop? Numbness in the limbs? You may need prompt emergency hospital care

The streamlined process of having tests conveniently administered at the A&E department saves waiting and travel time, and reduces the hassle for what is already a stressful situation. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
The streamlined process of having tests conveniently administered at the A&E department saves waiting and travel time, and reduces the hassle for what is already a stressful situation. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

An unforeseen medical issue can surface at any time. It could be in the form of a bad fall in the bathroom, a careless accident in the kitchen, or unexpected sharp pains in the chest or abdomen. 

How do you decide when administering first aid home or a trip to a family clinic will suffice? Dr Kevin Sim, resident Accident & Emergency (A&E) physician at Mount Elizabeth Hospital, advises that the following conditions warrant an immediate visit to the emergency room:

  • Chest pain or difficulty in breathing. This could be a sign of serious conditions such as heart attacks, rupture of the lung air sacs and blood clots.
     
  • The sudden onset of numbness in the limbs, weakness or severe headache, especially, but not always, with vomiting. The causes can include serious conditions such as a stroke/aneurysm or be as mild as stress and tension.
     
  • Sudden and prolonged abdominal pain that lasts over an hour, which may be accompanied by prolonged vomiting. It is important to ensure there is no further danger to the patient if a serious condition is causing the pain.
     
  • Nosebleeds that last for more than 20 minutes.
     
  • Slurred speech, mumbling or a chance in the rhythm of speaking, which may follow a stroke, a head injury or other neurological disorders.
     
  • A fever accompanied by severe neck pain or headache, which may indicate encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation of the membrane that surrounds the brain).
     
  • Chemical burns, following contact with a corrosive substance.
     
  • Injuries - open ones (involving bleeding), or closed ones (involving pain and swelling). Wounds that bleed continuously despite the application of direct pressure, or those with edges gaping open often require suturing, which is not always available in a normal clinic.  Injuries with swelling or pain may require an X-ray to rule out a fracture.
     
  • Prolonged fever associated with fainting or near fainting, chest pain, difficulty in breathing or severe abdominal pain. High fevers in very young children, especially those aged six months or younger, need special attention. Such patients will likely undergo a blood test, possibly an intravenous drip, an X-ray or scan as appropriate.

Such symptoms may indicate other major underlying issues that require further tests. 

Dr Sim says: “It is important that investigations often not fully available in a family clinic are done. For instance, if symptoms are caused by a serious medical issue such as a heart attack, time is of the essence to try to save as much of the heart's function as possible. This would improve the patient’s outcome both immediately and in the long run.”

He adds that patients benefit from the streamlined process of having essential tests all conveniently done at the A&E department, so they do not have to make their way to a clinic to undergo further tests. This saves waiting and travel time, and reduces the hassle for what is already a stressful situation.


Don't let the fear of hospital-acquired Covid-19 infection stop you from receiving emergency treatment; Mount Elizabeth Hospitals have put stringent measures in place to ensure the safety and timeliness of physicians attending to patients. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

Healthcare made safer

But as the pandemic rages on globally, we may be hesitant to visit hospitals for fear of being exposed to germs and the Covid-19 virus.

While those showing symptoms of Covid-19 may head to the nearest hospital’s emergency department, others are downplaying non-covid symptoms and are stalling medical attention with the misconception that it would reduce the risk of virus transmission.

That may end up doing more harm to your health, says Dr Henry Chua, resident A&E physician at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital. 

He adds: “While it is understandable for patients to have reservations about visiting emergency rooms during the pandemic for fear of picking up infections, it is important to determine conclusively that those symptoms don’t hide other underlying issues, and are not serious.”

To allay fears of hospital-acquired Covid-19 infection, Mount Elizabeth Hospitals have put stringent measures in place to ensure the safety and timeliness of physicians attending to patients. These reduce the risks of infection, and the amount of time spent in the emergency room.

Dr Chua notes that safety measures observed at Mount Elizabeth Hospitals abide by IHH Healthcare Singapore’s Healthcare Made Safer Campaign. Some key measures that have been implemented include:

  • The regular sanitisation of public spaces and high-touch areas.
     
  • The installation of dedicated air-conditioners so air does not circulate from other parts of the hospital.
     
  • The usage of disposable cloths and mops to clean each room, preventing cross-contamination.
     
  • Adherence to stringent safety protocols by staff members who are vaccinated, and undergo rostered routine testing.
     
  • SafeEntry (SE) check-ins via the TraceTogether (TT) app or token by all visitors.
     
  • Mandatory COVID-19 swabs for all inpatients.
     
  • The enhanced personal protective equipment posture for added protection, pending further investigations, for all patients, visitors and staff. 
     
  • The imposition of strict time limits for registered visitors during ward visiting hours, and the prohibition of food and drinks in the wards.


Senior medical specialists are on call 24/7 to attend to a wide range of issues ranging from sprains to appendicitis, and annoying migraines to chest pains. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

Delivering prompt, comprehensive attention 

Located in the highly accessible Orchard and Novena areas, Mount Elizabeth Hospitals’ panel of senior medical specialists are on call to attend to a wide range of issues ranging from sprains to appendicitis, and annoying migraines to chest pains. 

Its well-trained medical teams identify and triage cases that need priority care so that patients can be treated first. This way, patients can receive attention more quickly, and also enjoy follow-up treatment where necessary. 

With an average wait time of 30 minutes, patients can expect to receive medical attention promptly. Those exhibiting symptoms of life-threatening conditions such as a stroke, heart attack or severe difficulty in breathing will be attended to immediately by the doctors.

The short waiting time is more than just an issue of convenience to the patient. Dr Chua says: “For certain life-threatening conditions such as a heart attack or a stroke, reaction time is of the essence to ensure the best health outcome for the patient. The earlier such patients are treated, the lower their chances of mortality and morbidity.”

 Receiving the quality medical care and service you deserve

Dealing with a medical emergency is stressful even in the best of times. Mount Elizabeth Hospital and Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, located in the heart of Singapore, offer a seamless claims process, leveraging coverage from your personal accident plan, comprehensive hospitalisation plan or travel insurance to minimise patients’ anxiety.

If you or your family members require medical treatment, make an appointment with a specialist or visit the Mount Elizabeth Hospitals 24-hour A&E Walk-in clinics. For prompt medical transportation, you can call Parkway Emergency services at 1800-PARKWAY (7275-929).