Based on CDC data, there were roughly 131 million Emergency Room visits in the United States in 2016. That means approximately 20% of Americans experienced an ER visit at least once that year.
Because an Emergency Room is a part of a hospital, it makes sense that virtually any illness or trauma can be treated in the ER; however, when possible, hospitals try to reserve the ER for people who have an immediate need for care, to protect life and/or limb, while people dealing with lesser illnesses might attempt scheduling an appointment with a doctor or going to a walk-in clinic first.
While many ailments are treated in Emergency Rooms across the world, everyday, there are still some illnesses/traumas which occur at greater rates. These issues which generate the higest number of ER visits are:
- Chest Pains
- Stomach Pains
- Upper Respitory Infections
- Broken Bones and Sprains
- Back Pain
- Skin Infections
- Cuts and Abrasions
- Foreign Objects in the Body
If you are experiencing any of the aforementioned problems, or any other severe health issue, please use our directory to find the closest hospital near you.
When experiencing various medical problems, people are faced with a few options for care: home treatment, calling a healthcare provider and scheduling an appointment for a later date, going to a walk-in clinic, and seeking immediate emergency care.
Commonsense plays a big role in choosing which route is safest or necessary, but there are times when the best option is less clear, especially when it comes to choosing when to visit a walk-in clinic and when to go to the ER. People may know they need immediate consultation or care for a persistent medical condition, but they are unsure if the severity of their malady warrants a visit with an emergency doctor. Emergency care can cost two to three times more than similar or identical care in a personal provider’s office, according to MedlinePlus, an information service produced by the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Considering also that one’s health should not be taken lightly, it is worth knowing the right occasions to utilize various types of healthcare to address a problem.
Below are examples of when to go to the ER. These medical conditions are broken into categories, although some overlap in terms of which physical systems they affect. All share in common, however, that they can require immediate or advanced treatments only offered in hospital settings. (Note: If you've been injured at work and are not in need of emergency medical attention, you'll have to go through your employer to have your visit covered by workers' comp.)
Abdominal pain can be tricky. There are numerous reasons why people at times experience abrupt, sometimes even intense, discomfort in their abdominal region. Other factors to consider when determining if the stomach pain is an emergency include whether the person is pregnant, recently had abdominal surgery, or has a history of colostomy or gastric bypass surgery. Also look for the appearance of bruising on the skin, a rapid expansion of stomach size, or if the stomach is hard to the touch. If a person’s pain intensifies over time and/or is accompanied with other symptoms—including dizziness, chest pain, abdominal tenderness when touched, the inability to have a bowel movement, and vision changes—seek emergency care immediately.
Related to stomach pain or gastrointestinal problems, if a person is persistently experiencing loose stool, diarrhea, or vomiting, they should see an emergency doctor and report these symptoms. Other reasons include overdosing on a controlled substance, such as drugs, as well as food, alcohol, or any other form of poisoning, even from inhaling smoke or poisonous fumes.
Severe chest pain or pressure are reasons to go to the ER. Additionally, if a person has stopped breathing or is having trouble breathing, that could be a symptom of a serious problem and requires immediate treatment. Other emergency situations include coughing or throwing up blood or experiencing a severe reaction that is accompanied with hives, breathing difficulties, or swelling. Many serious allergic reactions can be treated with an epinephrine autoinjector, such as the EpiPen, but if a person does not have such a tool, it is critically important for them to see an emergency doctor.
Similar to stomach pain, back pain can be a difficult medical condition to categorize as serious or non-serious, meaning not all back pain requires emergency care. If the pain begins during or directly following injury to the back, such as hitting it on a hard surface during a fall, then the person should go to the ER to examine the spine.
Another factor to consider is whether there are concurrent symptoms such as being unable to control one’s bowels or bladder. This could be a symptom of cauda equine, a rare disorder that involves the bundle of nerve roots situated at the lower end of the spinal cord. Although rare, this condition should be treated with emergency surgery, which requires the proper healthcare setting and professionals.
If someone has sustained a head injury and fainted, passed out, or is behaving confused or disoriented as a result, call 911 or take them to the ER. Other head-related problems that require emergency are include abnormal or severe headaches, especially if they start suddenly or with no identifiable cause; persistent dizziness; suddenly being unable to walk, see, or move; slurred speech; and sudden confusion or other noticeable, inexplicable change to one’s mental state.
If someone has a high fever, they may also require emergency care. Part of that depends on whether the fever is not improving with at-home treatments, such as an over-the-counter medication, or if the fever is accompanied by other symptoms, such as a stiff neck, severe headache, or the appearance of a rash.
Bone aInd Joint Injuries
Broken bones are almost always a reason to visit the ER, especially if the bone is pushing through the skin in any way or if there is a loss of movement to the affected area. Minor broken bones can potentially be treated at an urgent care clinic or by a person’s regular healthcare provider in the near future. If there is any question about the severity of the break or about a dislocated joint, go to the ER and have the injury examined. It is not worth the excruciating pain or having the bone not set properly, which could cause more issues later on.
Spinal injury and neck injury can both be extremely dangerous, as well. If a person’s neck or spine has been injured and they are struggling to move or have lost feeling around those important body parts, they should see an emergency doctor.
Other Medical Problems There are a number of other occasions when a person should go to the ER. The medical conditions that need emergency care include:
Electric shock or lightning strike
Severe pain in the jaw or arm
Abruptly experiencing drooping, numbness or weakness on one side of the body
Severe pain anywhere on the body
According to MedlinePlus, if a person or unborn baby could be permanently disabled or die, then the situation is an emergency. For more minor problems, a person can instead go to an urgent care or walk-in clinic. There also may be emergencies—including stroke, heart attack or severe bleeding, to name a few—when a person should not even try to drive to the ER, but instead should call 911. This is especially important if the medical emergency inhibits a person’s ability to drive themselves or if someone needs life-saving treatment from paramedics on the way to the hospital.
If there is any question about whether a person should seek emergency care, do not hesitate to reach out to a provider or a medical advice hotline by telephone. They should be able to guide toward a particular option or course of action.