Should I go to the Emergency Department or see my primary care physician?
How do you decide when a medical condition rises to the level of a medical "emergency?" The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) offers a list of warning signs that indicate a medical emergency:
- Difficulty breathing, shortness of breath
- Chest or upper abdominal pain or pressure
- Fainting, sudden dizziness, weakness
- Changes in vision
- Confusion or changes in mental status
- Any sudden or severe pain
- Uncontrolled bleeding
- Severe or persistent vomiting or diarrhea
- Coughing or vomiting blood
- Suicidal feelings
- Difficulty speaking
- Shortness of breath
- Unusual abdominal pain
Children have unique medical problems and may display different symptoms than adults. Symptoms that are serious for a child may not be as serious for an adult. Children may also be unable to communicate their condition, which means an adult will have to interpret the behavior. Always get immediate medical attention if you think your child is having a medical emergency.
If you or a loved one think you need emergency care, come to the emergency department. If you think the medical condition is life-threatening or the person's condition will worsen on the way to the hospital, then you need to call 9-1-1 and have your local Emergency Medical Services provider come to you.
Emergency departments see patients based on the severity of their illnesses or injuries, not on a first-come, first serve basis. With that in mind, ACEP offers the following tips to patients when they come to an emergency department in order to get the best possible care as quickly as possible:
- Bring a list of medications and allergies: What's the name of the medication you are taking? How often do you take it and for how long? A list of allergies is important, especially if there are many of them. Be sure to include medications, foods, insects or any other product that may cause an allergic reaction. Bring a medical history form with you.
- Know your immunizations: This will likely be a long list for children; mainly tetanus, flu and Hepatitis B for adults.
- Remain calm: Obviously it is difficult to remain composed if you've been badly injured, but a calm attitude can help increase communication with the doctors and nurses who are caring for you.