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This list of symptoms will help you determine when it’s best to go to urgent care or the ER.

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When you are sick or injured, you may need immediate medical attention. If you can’t get an appointment with your doctor right away, you may be wondering what to do. Should you go to urgent care or is it best to head to the emergency room (ER)?

Throughout the pandemic, hospital emergency rooms have remained open to treat seriously ill or injured patients. Many hospitals have been encouraging people with minor and non-life-threatening conditions to seek other means of medical treatment when possible. But they are also reminding people that when their condition is serious, such as a possible heart attack or stroke, they need to get to the hospital quickly.

The ER should be your first choice if an injury or illness appears severe or life-threatening. Going to urgent care instead of the ER when you don’t really need it frees up valuable resources at the hospital to treat more seriously ill or injured patients. It also lowers your risk of contracting COVID-19, since many people with the virus arrive at the hospital through the emergency department.

If you need to go to the ER and have tested positive for COVID-19 or suspect you have the virus, call your doctor, the hospital or the local health department first for instructions on what to do. If your condition is life-threatening, call 911. Let the 911 operator know if you or someone in your household has COVID-19 so first responders can take necessary precautions to keep everyone as safe as possible.

Here is a guide to help you determine whether to go to an urgent care center or the ER when you need immediate medical attention.

Urgent Care

Provides medical care for minor or non-life-threatening conditions, including:

    • Fever, cough, sore throat, headache, ear or sinus pain
    • Minor allergic reactions, asthma attacks or rashes
    • Urinary tract infections
    • Cuts or wounds requiring stitches
    • Minor burns or eye irritation
    • Minor orthopedic injuries

Emergency Room (ER)

Provides medical care for major or life-threatening conditions, including:

    • Possible heart attack (pain, pressure or tightness in chest, arm, jaw, neck or back)
    • Possible stroke (numbness on one side of face, arm or leg; difficulty speaking; confusion)
    • High fever with stiff neck, mental confusion or difficulty breathing
    • Severe shortness of breath or abdominal pain
    • Coughing up or vomiting blood
    • Wounds that won’t stop bleeding
    • Severe burns
    • Poisoning or overdose of alcohol or drugs
    • Orthopedic injuries causing severe pain
    • Head injuries
    • Severe vomiting, diarrhea or dehydration
    • Severe symptoms of COVID-19, such as trouble breathing, persistent chest pain or pressure, difficulty staying awake, bluish lips and/or new confusion

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Date Last Reviewed: February 18, 2021

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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