When you are suffering or in pain, it can be difficult to know the difference between an emergency and a non-emergency. Amazingly, 97% of patients who visit urgent care centers choose correctly, with only 3% of urgent care patients needing a transfer to the emergency room. Here are a few situations that illustrate the difference in symptoms between those that may be better treated at an urgent care clinic rather than an emergency room:
Fever Without Rash vs. Fever With Rash
Fevers, particularly in children, can be scary. Fever is not a condition, but a symptom that occurs when the immune system is battling a viral or bacterial infection. Fever is actually an attempt by the body to kill the invading microbe. Many viruses and bacteria cannot tolerate elevated temperatures, so fevers can help the body kill off the infection. Although every case is different, a fever that is not accompanied by a rash usually indicates less serious infections. Thus, doctors can treat a fever without a rash at an urgent care center.
Fevers accompanied by a rash, on the other hand, can be symptomatic of serious and life-threatening infections, such as:
- Scarlet fever
- Hand, foot, and mouth disease
All of these infections can have grave consequences and any patient suffering from a fever accompanied by a rash should be examined by doctors at an emergency room as soon as possible.
Abdominal Pain vs. Chest Pain
Abdominal pain can accompany many life threatening illnesses and conditions, including appendicitis, ruptured ulcers, and, in women, a ruptured ovarian cyst. However, most causes of abdominal pain, such as food-borne illnesses, muscle strain, gastritis, and constipation, are not life threatening and can be treated by doctors in an urgent care center.
Conversely, chest pain can accompany a heart attack and angina. Heart attacks are life threatening and require immediate attention at an emergency room.
Cold vs. Flu
It can be difficult to tell the difference between a cold and the flu. However, they are caused by entirely different species of virus. Colds are caused by coronavirus and rhinovirus. Colds usually come on gradually, and are characterized by nasal congestion, sore throat, cough, and mild fatigue. Colds are usually mild and can be treated with home care or a visit to urgent care.
Flu is caused by the influenza virus and can be life threatening, particularly in young children, seniors, and people with weak immune systems. While not all cases of the flu require a visit to the emergency room, vulnerable patients experiencing severe symptoms should be seen by doctors immediately. Symptoms of flu usually come on quickly, and are mainly characterized by chest congestion and severe cough, fever and chills, headache, joint and muscle aches, and weakness or fatigue.
Minor Injuries vs. Severe Trauma
While the severity of an injury is sometimes subjective, cuts that require a few stitches to close, first degree burns (burns without blistering), sprains, and muscle strains, are more appropriate for urgent care doctors than the emergency room.
Severe trauma, on the other hand, usually requires a visit to the emergency room to reduce the risk of complications. Moreover, severe trauma can be accompanied by life threatening conditions, such as internal bleeding, concussion, and shock. Examples of severe trauma include:
- Injuries to the head or face
- Eye injuries
- Severe cuts or other injuries with severe bleeding
- Broken bones
- Dislocated joints
Digestive Problems vs. Neurological Problems
While they may be uncomfortable, most digestive problems are not life threatening. However, they may be dangerous enough to visit an urgent care center. For example, diarrhea and vomiting may lead to dehydration, but these symptoms and conditions can be treated at an urgent care center.
Neurological problems can be life threatening. Symptoms like seizure, sudden weakness on one side of the body, and mental confusion can signify a stroke or other neurological condition. People exhibiting these symptoms should be seen by doctors immediately.
Every case is different. However, using common sense will help you to determine whether you will be better served at an urgent care center. If you need medical attention, but your doctor’s office is closed, you might head to an urgent care center. If your medical emergency is more urgent than a doctor’s office visit, you might need to go to the emergency room.