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ER or Not: When Should I Go to the Emergency Room?

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ER or Not: When Should I Go to the Emergency Room?

Apr 20, 2020

The ER is for emergencies—we know this. But which health conditions classify as "emergencies" can be confusing. It's important to know the guidelines for coming into the ER. Emergency physician Dr. Troy Madsen talks about the ABC(and D)s of when you should go to the emergency room.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: It's time for "ER or Not." That's where I come up with the scenario, give it to Dr. Troy Madsen. You get to play along at home, decide whether or not it's something you'd go to the ER or not for, and Dr. Madsen will give us the definitive answer.

So today, it's more of a general "ER or Not." Like the ABCs of emergencies, how can I decide if something that's happened to me is a reason to go to the ER or not? Do you have some guidelines for us?

Dr. Madsen: Yes, Scot. You know, this is a great time to think about it because, like you said, we really need to think about these resources in the ER and leaving these for the people who really need them right now. So a good rule of thumb is to think ABC. And we'll say ABCD. We're going to add a D as well here. So A is airway, B is breathing, C is circulation, D is disability. So if you're having issues with any of these things, you need to go to the ER.

So A would be airway, your airway is blocked. You're just not getting air in. B is breathing. I'm feeling short of breath. I just can't get a deep breath. You know, I feel like my oxygen levels are low. C is circulation. So that would be your blood pressure. My blood pressure is low, or maybe it's just really, really high and I'm having other symptoms with that. Or I feel like I'm having a heart attack, something that's affecting my body's circulation. Or certainly, if you're bleeding, you know, that's going to be losing blood and affect your circulation. Or D is disability. That would be like a stroke, like I'm disabled. You know, suddenly I can't use my left hand or my face is drooping. So those are absolutely reasons to go to the ER.

But if you don't have those things, there are lots of other resources you can use right now. And I think telemedicine is a great resource right now to call in and talk to someone on the phone, talk to a physician or a health care provider, say, "These are my symptoms." You know, "I'm having this abdominal pain. This is where it hurts. What do you think I should do?" They may say, "Ah, give it 12 hours, see where you are." Or they may say, "Go to the ER." So great time to use other resources. At times, go to the urgent care. I do know urgent cares have been really busy with lots of people with coughs and respiratory symptoms as well. But try to do something besides going to the ER and only go to the ER if you are having those things. Otherwise, start somewhere else first. They'll direct you to the ER if that's where you need to be.