Doctor or Emergency Room? Symptoms You Shouldn’t Ignore

Nagging back pain. Chronic cough. A throbbing earache. Most people don’t rush to the doctor every time they have an ache or pain. Plus, who has time to sit in the waiting room all afternoon? But there are certain symptoms you shouldn’t ignore. And more serious symptoms warrant a trip to the closest emergency room.

As parents we have a responsibility to our family to take care of ourselves. We focus on our kids’ medical needs. Does my daughter need to go to the doctor? Should I take the baby to the emergency room? But we need to listen to our own bodies as well. Those kids need healthy parents.

Find a Good Doctor Before You Get Sick

If possible, form a relationship with a primary care physician close to home. Once you’re an established patient, it’s easier to get an appointment when you’re sick or have a concern. If you have a chronic condition, such as diabetes or asthma, make an action plan with your doctor.  When your symptoms flare up, you’ll know what to do.

Also, once you have a primary care doctor in your corner, you can call and speak with their office when you have a question regarding your health. They may be able to assist you over the phone, get you a sooner appointment than going through the main line, or refer you to a specialist, depending on what’s going on.

When to Call the Doctor

Most of us like to ride it out when we get sick. With work, families, and other commitments, it’s a pain to go to the doctor. But certain symptoms are signs to make the call:

  • Sudden Exhaustion.  Are you getting enough sleep? Has your schedule or diet changed? If you’re wiped out for no apparent reason, you need to check with the doctor. Simple blood tests can rule out things like anemia or thyroid issues.
  • Chronic Heartburn.  Everyone needs an occasional antacid. But if you’re starting to rely on them, call the doctor. Over time, stomach acid will destroy the lining of the esophagus and can cause scar tissue to form. It also puts you at risk of esophageal cancer.
  • Excessive Thirst.  This can be an early sign of diabetes. Left untreated, diabetes can lead to blindness and stroke.
  • Ongoing Depression.  We all get the blues from time to time. But if depression has continued for several weeks, it’s time to see the doctor. The longer you stay in the depths of depression the harder it is to get out.
  • Changes in Moles.  Keep an eye on moles or other skin spots. If you notice any changes in color, growth, or the border, see your dermatologist. Melanoma has increased by 30% in the past 10 years.
  • Achiness or Joint Pain. We all have aches and pains from time to time. But chronic pain needs to be addressed. Lupus, an autoimmune disorder, causes achiness and is often found in women in their 30’s and 40’s. Lyme Disease, transmitted via ticks, affects the joints. Left untreated it can cause nerve damage. So if your aches or joint pain lasts more than a few weeks, check with your doctor.

When the Doctor Can’t Get You in Today

It’s always fun when the flu hits but the doctor can’t get you in until tomorrow. Fortunately, there are other options these days.

Retail Clinics: Also known as Convenient Care Clinics (CCCs), these are usually located in a grocery or drug stores. Patients usually see either a physician’s assistant or a nurse practitioner. This is a good option for basic things like eye infections, a sore throat, flu shots, rashes, and ear or sinus infections.

Urgent Care: As the name implies, these are great for injuries and after-hours illnesses. Urgent cares usually have a doctor on staff, and offer some imaging services. These spots are great for lacerations, sprains, and those weekends when you throw out your back. 

When to Go to the Emergency Room

Everyone is reluctant to make that trip to the emergency room. But some symptoms should never be ignored. Time is critical. It could be the difference between life and death.

  • Chest Pain. It’s a possible sign of a heart attack. Other symptoms include sweating, nausea, and shortness of breath. Seek help immediately.
  • Weakness in Arms and/or Legs. You could be having a stroke. Other things to watch for include numbness in the face. Symptoms usually only affect one side of the body. Time is critical.
  • Sudden, Severe Pain. Unexplained pain in your abdomen or head should be evaluated right away.
  • Head Trauma. Whether or not you lost consciousness, you need to be seen by a doctor. By the time you have true symptoms from a hit to the head, it can be too late for treatment.
  • Severe Burns. If your burn is charred, covers a large area, results in an open sore or has blisters, seek treatment.
  • Trouble Breathing. Labored breathing, wheezing or whistling should be evaluated immediately.
  • Vomiting or Coughing up Blood. If you’re seeing more than a few streaks of blood, you need to be evaluated.

Don’t put off seeking medical care. Whether it’s a recent problem that’s cropped up or an emergency situation, seek medical treatment. Your family needs you. 

Ever had a health scare? Did you ride it out, call the doctor, or head straight to the emergency room? Let us learn from your experiences by sharing your stories with us in the comments below!


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