Health & Fitness

When should you go to an ER?

Maybe you just haven’t been able to shake that cough. Maybe the tingling numbness you first felt in your fingertips has spread all the way up your arm. Or, maybe you’re experiencing shooting, stabbing pains in your chest and back.

If these or other symptoms arise, don’t delay your care – visit your local emergency room.

When should you visit the emergency room?

In addition to major traumas and accidents, a number of symptoms could be cause to visit the emergency room.

Immediately come to the emergency room if you experience:

▪ Any symptoms that interrupt your life or your ability to function

▪  Chest pain

▪  Severe injury or trauma

▪ Shortness of breath

▪  Stroke-like symptoms, including numbness

▪ Suicidal thoughts

While those symptoms are usually emblematic of a major health concern, other issues may also need emergency care, especially if you don’t have a primary care provider.

They include:

▪ Abdominal pain, which might be a sign of anything from a urinary tract infection to a perforated ulcer

▪ Back pain, which can be caused by an injury or come on suddenly

▪ Bites, especially if you’re not sure what bit you

▪  Bleeding, whether from your nose, rectum or an injury

▪ Coughs and sore throats

▪  Cramping or bleeding while pregnant

▪ Dizziness or other balance problems

▪  Fevers, especially if they occur in very young children or the elderly

▪ Headaches and migraines

▪ Mood changes

▪ Rashes and allergic reactions

▪ Weakness, whether widespread or in a specific part of your body

Babies, young children or the elderly should always be brought to their primary care physician or the emergency room if they experience any of these symptoms. Even seemingly innocuous problems can turn tragic if left untreated for those age groups.

What to expect

Your emergency room experience will depend on your level of acuity, which refers to the level of care you need.

High-acuity patients refer to those experiencing chest pain, stroke symptoms or major traumas. Lower acuity might be moderate abdominal or pack pain, as well as undeniable weakness in otherwise healthy adults.

Typically, when you first enter the emergency room, a triage nurse will take your information and symptoms to determine your acuity. High-acuity patients are frequently taken straight back to the emergency department, while those with lesser degrees of acuity may have slightly longer waits. He or she will also ask you about any medications you are taking, so be sure to keep a current medication list with you.

Small emergencies, such as sprains, sore throats, ear infections or rashes, are usually met with longer wait times. For those patients, the Wesley EmergencyCare Network offers a service called ReadyCare, which is an “express lane” through the emergency department. ReadyCare allows you to be seen, treated and released as quickly as possible.

Before heading out the door, you can view current average wait times by visiting, where they’re updated every 30 minutes. You can also use that website to start your check-in process before you arrive.

Sometimes driving yourself or a loved one won’t get you the medical care you need fast enough. If you think your life may be in danger, call 911. Paramedics can deliver life-saving care on the way to the ER.

Francie Ekengren is chief medical officer and emergency physician at Wesley Medical Center.