When illness or injury strikes suddenly, it’s often hard to know whether to seek immediate care or to call your primary care doctor. The decision becomes even more complicated if it happens after hours or on a weekend. To help make the most informed choice during these circumstances, it’s important to know some basic guidelines for when and where to seek medical care.
A true medical emergency is generally a condition that threatens a person’s life, limbs or sense organs. Most medical professionals agree that the following circumstances should always be treated as medical emergencies: chest pain, inability to breathe, severe and uncontrolled bleeding, stroke symptoms, and head, neck and eye injuries.
In most other cases, your primary care doctor is the best resource for determining how to handle the condition. Find out if your doctor has an after-hours service (most do). Also ask your doctor if he or she recommends a local walk-in clinic or urgent care center. Walk-in centers are often good options for minor illnesses and injuries that occur at night or on weekends when your doctor may be unavailable. They are less expensive than emergency room visits, and if your situation isn’t a medical emergency you’ll likely spend less time in the waiting room at a walk-in center.
Considering care for sudden injuries, it’s recommended to call your healthcare provider or seek immediate medical attention for the following:
- A wound that continues bleeding after several minutes of applying pressure.
- Cuts that are particularly long or deep or that have ragged edges.
- Redness, swelling, bruising or drainage that increases.
- Numbness at the site of an injury.
- Injured body part that is bent or misshapen.
- Significant injuries to the head and face.
- Injuries that pop or make a sound when occurring.
- Increasing pain or difficulty breathing.
- A wound that looks infected (red, swollen or draining pus).
It’s always best to err on the side of caution when illnesses or injuries occur. If you feel that you or someone else needs immediate medical attention and a primary care doctor is not available, emergency care may be the best choice.