Horrifying Signs You Should Go to the ER Right Away

It can be hard to tell whether or not symptoms are grave enough to skip the doctor and head to the hospital. Sometimes, a slight difference in symptoms indicates something much worse. Here are the signs your body may give you that seem like nothing but are major reasons to head to the ER right away. Do not ignore the type of headache on page 10.

1. Persistent chest pain

Middle-aged businessman suffering chest pains
Keep an eye on chest pain. | iStock.com/mheim3011
  • Possible causes: acid reflux, indigestion, muscle strain, cardiovascular disease, angina, or heart attack

Chest pain can, at its worst, signal a heart attack. If you’re experiencing chest pain that is persistent, it’s always best to go to the emergency room. It could be nothing — chest pain is sometimes caused by indigestion. However, it’s best to let the doctor diagnose that. Plus, you shouldn’t drive yourself. If you are driving and suddenly go into cardiac arrest, you could injure anyone around you — especially yourself.

Next: If these symptoms become severe, get help. 

2. Severe flu symptoms

Woman blowing her nose into a tissue.
The flu is a nasty virus. | Sam Edwards/OJO Images/Getty Images
  • Possible causes: influenza, heart disease, kidney or lung disease, anemia, or liver disorder

If a young child or an elderly person comes down with the flu, they are more at risk than adults. If you notice severe flu symptoms persisting, it’s important to get to a hospital. Since the flu is a virus, there often isn’t too much a regular visit to the doctor can do. However, the flu can lead to other complications, like pneumonia, that can be deadly. If you think your symptoms are worsening into pneumonia, get to the hospital right away.

Next: This symptom might seem like nothing, but that’s not always the case. 

3. Sudden fainting without explanation

Fainted girl
Has this happened to you? | iStock.com/DragonImages
  • Possible causes: vasovagal syncope, low blood pressure, arrhythmia, hypoglycemia, or cardiovascular disease

Fainting is tricky because it often does not require medical attention. However, that’s usually because it can be quickly attributed to something (i.e. getting blood taken, having an anxiety attack, etc.). But if you faint suddenly with no explanation, head to the ER. It could be a serious underlying illness or condition resulting in a lack of oxygen to the brain.

Next: This other heart issue could mean trouble. 

4. Severe heart palpitations

Stethoscope sitting on an red ECG printout
If you feel lots of ups and downs there may be cause for concern. | iStock.com/RTimages
  • Possible causes: arrhythmia, cardiovascular disease, atrial flutter, ectopic beat, or atrial fibrillation

Heart palpitations make you feel like your heart is beating too fast, too hard, or skipping a beat. It might feel like it is literally beating out of your chest. If these palpitations persist, you should definitely go to the emergency room. It could signal a more severe heart problem. Often, palpitations are not harmful. However, if you’re experiencing severe palpitations that won’t stop, it’s best to go to the ER.

Next: Any change in this means you should get to the ER. 

5. Vision problems

Blurred vision
Do things look like this? | Svetlanais Getty Images
  • Possible causes: eye injury, vitreous hemorrhage, retinal detachment, blockage of a major artery or vein of the retina or optic nerve

Vision loss can mean more than just needing a pair of glasses. If you suddenly have blurred or double vision, or start to lose your vision altogether, it could be a sign of something far more serious. Specifically, vision troubles often accompany a stroke. Also, always call 911 with vision problems — don’t drive yourself to the hospital.

Next: Any trouble with this can signal a serious problem. 

6. Trouble breathing

Woman having trouble in breathing
Is it more difficult for you to move than it used to be?| iStock.com/OcusFocus
  • Possible causes: asthma, allergies, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or respiratory disease

If you’re having trouble breathing, it could be a sign of quite a few things. It could mean you’re suffering an allergy attack. It could also be accompanied with chest pain as a sign of a heart attack. Sometimes, trouble breathing occurs during an anxiety attack. If you haven’t just run a sprint and are not prone to anxiety, yet you suddenly have trouble breathing, get to the ER right away.

Next: If your temperature is soaring, you should get immediate help. 

7. High fever

Sick woman cough in ved under blanket
Sometimes you just can’t get out of bed. | iStock.com/samotrebizan
  • Possible causes: flu, heat stroke, strep throat, or rheumatoid arthritis

Typically, fevers signal a virus that goes away in a few days. Most children and adults can tolerate a fever up 103 degrees for a short amount of time, but it may be best to call the doctor. For any temp higher, especially if you’re elderly, it’s best to get to the emergency room. For infants, an ER visit should happen if the fever is 100.4 or higher.

Next: Slicing vegetables could take a serious turn. 

8. Deep cuts

South African model Gabriella Engels
A deep gash will need medical attention. | Phill Magakoe/AFP/Getty Images

Slicing your thumb while cutting into an onion is pretty common. Major treatment is not necessary for a small cut. But if your cut is more than a quarter inch in length, or it’s deep enough that muscle or bone is exposed, head to the ER to stitch it up. Also, if you were cut with any kind of rusty object, it’s best to get help ASAP to lower the chance of infection.

Next: If either of these symptoms show, it’s no joke. 

9. Sudden paralysis or extreme weakness

Aged patient receives the visit of a female black doctor
Feeling weak? | iStock.com/diego_cervo
  • Possible causes: Guillain-Barre syndrome, transverse myelitis, hypokalemic periodic paralysis, or acute flaccid myelitis

If you suddenly find that you can’t move your body — especially only one side of it, don’t wait for an ER visit. You could be having a stroke, and it’s important to get to the hospital ASAP. Brain cells deprived of oxygen die within minutes. The longer you wait, the more long-term damage you could have, including paralysis, memory loss, and emotional difficulties.

Next: Don’t take this sudden pain lightly. 

10. Sudden, severe headache

headache during work at the office
It could be nothing, but it might be something more serious. | iStock.com/gpointstudio
  • Possible causes: migraine, reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome, brain aneurysm, brain infection, or stroke

A sudden, severe headache is sometimes referred to as a thunderclap headache. It’s a sudden pain that comes out of nowhere and can reach peak intensity in seconds or minutes. If you experience a thunderclap headache, it’s important to immediately get to the hospital. Thunderclap headaches can signal a brain aneurysm or possibly a brain infection.

Next: This could be an extremely serious symptom. 

11. Seizure

Doctor using a mobile phone notes scan brain results
You may want to get it checked out. | iStock.com/utah778
  • Possible causes: stroke, meningitis, encephalitis, or psychological condition

Any kind of unexplained seizure (meaning you have not been diagnosed with epilepsy) warrants an ER visit. A seizure is a sudden surge of electrical activity in the brain. It can be a sign of epilepsy or something like a stroke or a psychological condition. There are various types and causes of seizures, so seek emergency treatment right away if you have one.

Next: If you can’t feel pain with this, it could be very serious.

12. Serious burns

Back with second degree burn
This would be a reason to stop by the ER. | iStock.com/ Lux_D

Catching your arm on the stove likely would not warrant an emergency room visit. However, if any part of you suffers a more severe burn, you need to seek emergency medical treatment (sunburn can also warrant an ER visit). Burns can become seriously infected if not properly treated, which can lead to even further problems. It’s always better to be safe than sorry. With the most severe burns, pain might not even be present because the muscle and tissue under the skin have been destroyed.

Next: An injury to this body part should never be underestimated. 

13. Head injury

Chievo defender's Fabio Depaoli touches his head after an injury
Head injuries are no joke. | Marco Bertorello/AFP/Getty Images

Any time you fall and hit your head, you should go to the hospital. Sometimes, severe head injuries don’t show symptoms at first. Actress Natasha Richardson declined help after falling during a ski trip. Just a few hours later, she was unconscious and did not survive the injury. Head injuries should not be taken lightly. It’s best to head to the ER and have some tests done to be sure.

Next: Dealing with this is unfortunate, but it can lead to more serious problems. 

14. Severe vomiting or diarrhea

Woman vomiting into the toilet bowl
It may be something serious. | LarsZahnerPhotography/Getty Images
  • Possible causes: stomach flu, viral gastroenteritis, gastrointestinal diseases, or food poisoning

With severe vomiting or diarrhea comes the risk of severe dehydration. If you’ve been vomiting or using the bathroom for four or five hours, and you can’t even keep clear liquids down, you should go to the emergency room. Dehydration is no joke, especially in young children and the elderly. If you vomit any blood, go to the ER right away.

Next: Any alteration in this is a sign to seek help. 

15. Change in mental status

Has your personality changed suddenly? | Monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images
  • Possible causes: schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, dementia, acute encephalopathy, stroke, or hemorrhage

Any alteration in mental status, like confusion, amnesia, or strange behavior justifies an ER visit. If you’re elderly, it could be a sign of dementia or Alzheimer’s, so it may be okay to see your doctor. However, in children and adults, a change in brain function could be much more serious, especially if you’ve recently suffered a head injury. It’s best to get to the emergency room ASAP and rule out anything potentially deadly.

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