Common Reasons for Emergency Room Visits

Common Reasons for Emergency Room Visits

June 04, 2024

Have you ever visited an emergency room? Every year, millions of people find themselves in emergency rooms (ER) across the country. According to reports from the CDC or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are over 130 million ER visits each year, and that’s in the United States alone. This staggering number only means one thing: emergency rooms are important and it’s important to understand when and how we should visit one. 

From sudden injuries to severe health crises, understanding the common reasons for ER visits can help you recognize when it's time to seek emergency medical attention.

So when do you visit an ER? There are several reasons why one should call the ER for medical attention. Here are the most common ones of them all:

Injuries and Accidents

Ever take a tumble and wind up with a trip to the ER? Injuries and accidents are among the top reasons people visit emergency rooms. These common injuries may include fractures, cuts, and burns.

These mishaps can come in all shapes and sizes. Take fractures, for example. They can happen from a clumsy fall at home, a rough tackle on the sports field, or even a serious car accident. Then there are cuts and burns. These can be the souvenirs of mishaps in the kitchen, DIY gone wrong, or even an unexpected encounter with a hot iron.

Although it’s understood that injuries from car accidents are particularly common, accounting for nearly 4.4 million ER visits annually, car accidents aren't the only ER culprits. Falls take the gold medal for clumsiness as well, especially for older adults. With over 8 million ER visits every year due to tumbles, it seems staying upright can be a challenge!

Sports injuries may also bring many people to the emergency room, as they often involve broken bones or concussions. According to the CDC reports, about 3 million children visit the ER each year due to sports injuries.

When to Seek ER Attention

If you find yourself in a bit of an accident, knowing when it’s time to call for medical help is crucial. Here's a quick guide to help you decide:

  • Fractures: If you suspect a broken bone, especially if it looks wonky, won't hold your weight, or has a gaping wound nearby, don't hesitate! Head straight to the ER. A timely visit can make a big difference in your recovery.
  • Cuts: Deep cuts, the ones that just won't stop bleeding or those inflicted by rusty or dirty objects, are prime candidates for an ER visit. Remember, prompt medical attention can help prevent excessive blood loss and nasty infections.
  • Burns: Burns bigger than three inches across, or any burns on your face, hands, feet, or groin, are cause for an ER trip. The same goes for third-degree burns, those with charred or white, leathery skin. Don't mess around with these – get to the ER for proper treatment.

Chest Pain and Cardiac Issues

Chest pain – it's a feeling that can send shivers down anyone's spine. And for good reason. Chest pain is a symptom one should never ignore, as it can be a warning sign of a serious heart problem.

Chest pain can signal any of the following:

  • Heart Attack: This feels like a monster is squeezing your chest. Characterized by intense chest pain, often described as a squeezing or pressure, that may radiate to the arm, neck, or jaw. You might also experience shortness of breath, sweating, nausea, and lightheadedness – all signs that something serious is going on.
  • Angina: This chest pain is caused by a lack of blood flow to your heart, often triggered by exercise or stress. It usually subsides with rest but this usually indicates underlying heart disease.
  • Arrhythmia: Your heart beating like a drum solo gone wrong? That could be an irregular heartbeat or arrhythmia. It can cause heart palpitations, dizziness, fainting, or leave you gasping for air. Some arrhythmias are life-threatening and require urgent treatment.


Chest pain can be a life-or-death situation, and getting help as soon as possible is crucial for survival and preventing long-term damage to your heart. If you experience severe chest pain, especially with shortness of breath or radiating pain, don't hesitate! Call 911 or get yourself to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Respiratory Problems

Respiratory issues are another common reason for ER visits. Conditions like asthma attacks, pneumonia, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) exacerbations can become emergencies. Here are the most common respiratory conditions and symptoms that may need emergency medical help:

  • Asthma Attacks: Severe difficulty in breathing, wheezing, and tightness in the chest. Asthma attacks are typically triggered by allergens, cold air, exercise, or respiratory infections. Seek emergency care if usual medications do not alleviate symptoms, if breathing becomes extremely labored, or if the individual is unable to speak in full sentences.
  • Pneumonia: Symptoms include high fever, chills, coughing with phlegm, and difficulty breathing. Pneumonia is typically caused by either bacteria, fungi, or viruses and this can be particularly severe for the young children, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems. Visit the ER if there is a high fever, confusion, persistent chest pain, or difficulty breathing, particularly in high-risk individuals.
  • COPD Exacerbations: Increased breathlessness, wheezing, and mucus production. Triggers can include respiratory infections, pollution, and smoking. Go to the ER for severe symptoms that do not improve with usual treatments, such as increased breathlessness or changes in alertness.

Abdominal Pain

We've all been there, doubled over in pain and wondering if a trip to the ER is necessary. Abdominal pain can be a real mystery, with a whole list of potential culprits. But some just can't be ignored and require a visit to the emergency room.

Here's a quick guide to some common belly woes that might warrant an ER visit:

  • Appendicitis: Sharp pain that begins around the navel that shifts to the lower right abdomen, and is often accompanied by fever, nausea, and vomiting. Seek ER attention if the persistent, severe pain does not subside and is accompanied by fever and nausea so it does not lead to a ruptured appendix.
  • Kidney Stones: Severe, cramping pain in the lower back or side, often spreading to the lower abdomen and groin. Additional symptoms of kidney stones may also include blood in the urine, nausea, and vomiting.
  • Gallbladder Issues: Feeling a sharp pain in your upper right abdomen, especially after indulging in some greasy food? Sometimes accompanied by nausea and vomiting, conditions like gallstones can cause intense pain and lead to complications if untreated.

Diagnostic Challenges

Unlike a stubbed toe or a broken arm, abdominal pain can be caused by a whole range of things, from minor issues like indigestion to life-threatening problems like a ruptured organ. This is because the abdomen houses multiple organs, including the stomach, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, intestines, and appendix.

Pinpointing the exact cause is challenging without medical evaluation, that's why a trip to the ER might be necessary. Doctors there have the tools and expertise to get to the bottom of your bellyache blues. They can run tests, ask you questions about your symptoms, and get a clearer picture of what's going on inside.

Severe Infections

Infections are a fact of life, but sometimes they morph into something much more serious. Take note of these common infections that might warrant a trip to the emergency room:

  • Sepsis: A widespread infection causing symptoms like high fever, rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, and confusion. Sepsis can quickly progress to septic shock, characterized by dangerously low blood pressure and organ failure.
  • Meningitis: Meningitis, or the inflammation of membranes surrounding the brain and the spinal cord, is marked by severe headache, neck stiffness, fever, and sensitivity to light. Bacterial meningitis can be life-threatening and requires immediate antibiotic treatment.
  • Severe Flu: Particularly in vulnerable populations like the elderly, young children, and those with chronic health conditions, the flu can cause severe symptoms like high fever, dehydration, and respiratory distress.

Sepsis can lead to septic shock, with dangerously low blood pressure and organ failure. It requires prompt antibiotic treatment and often intensive care. Meningitis can result in permanent neurological damage if not treated promptly. Untreated flu can also lead to other complications like pneumonia and exacerbate chronic health conditions.

The Need for Prompt Intervention

If you or someone else experiences symptoms of sepsis, meningitis, or severe flu, seek emergency care immediately. Early treatment is crucial for survival and reducing complications.

Mental Health Crises

Mental health crises are every bit as serious as physical emergencies. Knowing the warning signs can make a world of difference. Common crises include:

  • Severe Depression: Intense feelings of hopelessness, withdrawal, and suicidal thoughts. Depression can lead to severe functional impairments and requires immediate intervention. Changes in sleep, appetite, and energy levels, along with persistent sadness. Signs can also include a lack of interest in activities once enjoyed and expressions of worthlessness.
  • Suicidal Thoughts: Expressing a desire to end one's life, making plans, or showing drastic mood changes. Any indication of suicidal intent should be treated as an emergency. Direct verbalizations of wanting to die, giving away possessions, or abrupt mood changes can be a sign someone is entertaining suicidal thoughts. Behavioral changes like increased substance use or withdrawal from social interactions are also red flags.
  • Panic Attacks: Sudden episodes of intense fear, heart palpitations, and shortness of breath. Panic attacks can be extremely distressing and mimic other medical conditions. Take note of physical symptoms like sweating, chest pain, trembling, and even a sense of impending doom. These symptoms can appear suddenly and without clear triggers.

Seeking Immediate Help

If you or someone else you know is experiencing a mental health crisis like those mentioned, visit your nearest emergency room or call emergency services. Resources like crisis hotlines and mental health professionals can provide immediate support. Prompt intervention can prevent tragic outcomes and provide the necessary care and support.

Don't Wait Until It's Too Late - Know When to Seek Emergency Help

Emergencies can strike anytime, anywhere. This article has explored some of the most common reasons people visit the ER, from bumps and bruises to serious infections and mental health crises. The key takeaway? Knowing when to seek emergency medical attention can make all the difference.

If you're ever unsure whether a situation warrants a trip to the ER, it's always best to err on the side of caution and seek help. A doctor is able to assess your condition and they can also recommend the best course of treatment.

For more information on when to visit the emergency room, visit any of the trusted Aether Health Emergency Rooms. Understanding these common reasons for ER visits can help you make informed decisions in these critical situations.


 

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