No one likes to have their fun (or life) interrupted by a bump, bruise, cut, headache or tummy upset. So how do you decide when home first aid, virtual care or a trip to urgent care will do — or when there's a serious emergency requiring you to call to 911 or go to the ER?

If there's any doubt, follow this rule of thumb: It's better to go and know than to wait and debate. Each year, more than 12 million emergency room visits are for incidents serious enough to result in hospital admission.

The American College of Emergency Physicians has identified these common red flags, signaling that you should stop what you're doing and get to the nearest ER:

  • Difficulty breathing, shortness of breath – It could be from asthma, allergies, overexertion or a serious lung or heart condition. Any struggle to catch a breath warrants immediate, emergency medical attention.
  • Chest or upper abdominal pain or pressure lasting two minutes or more – Maybe you overindulged on spicy barbecue and it’s just a case of heartburn. But unexplained chest pain could be a heart attack and every second counts! Be aware that men and women experience different symptoms of heart attack and be sure you know the signs.
  • Unusual abdominal pain – The ER is best equipped to diagnose and treat sudden, serious abdominal pain that could signal appendicitis, gallbladder, liver or kidney problems or an intestinal blockage.

When to go to the ER with stomach pain.

  • Any sudden or severe pain – Injury or trauma like broken bones, swelling and bruising or blistering burns are clear reasons to head to the ER. But severe pain without observable injury can be a sign of internal trauma or illness. ERs have X-ray, CT Scan, Ultrasound and MRI  testing equipment to quickly find the cause.
  • Uncontrolled bleeding – Deep cuts and gashes may need more than stitches. Severe lacerations affecting muscles or tendons may also require emergency surgery and treatment for infection and blood loss. If bleeding is excessive, bypass the urgent care and go straight to the ER!
  • Fainting, sudden dizziness, weakness – It's easy to get dehydrated in the Texas summer heat. Severe dehydration can lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Know the signs, what to do, and get help fast!

When to go to ER with heat exhaustion.

  • Confusion or change in mental status, unusual behavior, difficulty waking, changes in vision, difficulty speaking, severe "worst headache ever" – Neurological symptoms could be signaling stroke, brain embolism or aneurysm, or concussion if a head injury is involved. Do not hesitate. Time to care is critical!

When to go to the ER with a headache.

  • Severe or persistent vomiting or diarrhea – Gastrointestinal problems such as food-borne illness may start at a summer picnic, but can end up in hospitalization due to severe dehydration or possible kidney/liver damage — especially in elderly or young people with weaker immune systems. Seek emergency medical help if symptoms last more than 24-hours or are accompanied by fever.
  • Coughing or vomiting blood – For people with digestive health problems such as acid reflux, stomach ulcers or gastritis, summer gatherings and activities may have you overdoing it on the food and drink or over-the-counter pain relief. Anything that aggravates your condition can turn it into a medical emergency. Any sign of internal bleeding calls for an immediate trip to the ER.
  • Suicidal or violent feelings Summer heat can affect human behavior and increase bouts of depression, lethargy, irritability, anger, and thoughts of violence or self-harm. For people with behavioral illness, emergency services can provide stabilization and access to behavioral health services. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) provides free and confidential resources and support for people of all ages in distress or crisis.

For fast, emergency help in any situation, look to one of our many Medical City ER locations across North Texas. With average wait times posted online, if you do have an emergency, you can spend less time waiting and more time on the moments that matter most.

Find a fast Medical City ER near you or visit Medical City Virtual Care for non-emergency medical treatment from your computer or smartphone.

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Revised 4/17/2019


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