Every year, more than 140 million people come through the doors of the hospital emergency room. Have you ever wondered what brings so many people in? We broke down the top 10 reasons for visits to the ER in the United States. Plus, find out how much time you’ll spend there and how much an ER visit could actually cost you.
Any kind of cut, wound, or puncture is the number 10 reason for yearly visits to the ER. Whether it’s slicing your finger instead of slicing the veggies or falling and getting a more serious puncture, lacerations are a big reason why adults and children alike end up visiting the ER during the year.
Next: These are a top cause of ER visits, but you can also pick one up in the ER.
Infections encompass many things, from a urinary tract infection to a sexually transmitted disease to a skin rash. However, there is also a chance you could contract an infection while you’re in the hospital, too. Infections like the flu, norovirus, and MRSA are some of the most common infections lurking inside of hospitals.
Next: If this is unusual, it might be time to go to the ER.
8. Abdominal pain
This is different from a typical stomach virus. Abdominal pain that sends you to the ER might be appendicitis, a gallbladder infection, a hernia, or other serious problems affecting the stomach. The symptoms for each of these differ, but any unusual, harsh stomach pain might warrant a trip to the ER.
Next: These can happen anywhere, anytime.
7. Injuries and accidents
It’s no surprise that injuries and accidents makes the list. Anything from spraining an ankle during a basketball game to getting a concussion or breaking a leg in a car accident would fall into this category. As far as sports injuries go, concussions during practice or games are the most common injury that sends an athlete to the ER.
Next: Many people who experience this take a trip to the ER.
6. Back pain
Back pain, whether related to trauma or a chronic condition, is another common cause for ER visits. Besides being uncomfortable, back pain affects your ability to perform daily tasks like walking, playing with your children or grandchildren, and more. Some causes for chronic back pain are scoliosis and degenerative disc disease.
Next: This can be a sign of a number of health problems.
5. Breathing difficulties
Breathing difficulties can be a symptom of many types of health complications. An asthma attack, allergic reaction, heart attack, and more can all cause troubled breathing. It might be easy to self-diagnose the breathing problem (i.e. if you just ate something you’re very allergic to), but it can also be difficult to pinpoint if there are no immediately identifiable causes. When any breathing trouble occurs, it’s always best to head to the ER.
Next: This can lead to something more serious.
4. Sinus infection
While a sinus infection seems simple, it can actually lead to something more serious that might require an ER visit. A bad cough can accompany a sinus infection, and if it’s not properly treated, it can turn into pneumonia. Plus, it’s not always easy to diagnose a sinus infection, so those who go to the ER for it might think it is something worse.
Next: This is one of the more serious reasons for an ER visit.
Any type of life-threatening injury is the No. 3 reason that Americans go to the ER. A bad car accident, a fight that escalates, a fall, and more can all lead to traumatic injuries that require a 911 call and an ambulance trip to the ER. It is usually easy to tell when someone is suffering a traumatic injury. With a traumatic brain injury, vomiting, speech difficulty, and unresponsiveness are some of the most common symptoms.
Next: These symptoms should always be taken seriously.
2. Stroke symptoms
Stroke symptoms, especially in adults, are a very popular reason people go to the ER. A stroke occurs when blood flow to a part of the brain is cut off, and it can lead to severe brain damage and death if it is not treated immediately. Symptoms include weakness in one side of the body, vision trouble, mental confusion, and more. Strokes kill someone every four minutes in the U.S.
Next: This is the No. 1 reason for ER visits nationwide.
1. Chest pain
The number one cause of ER trips every year in the U.S. is chest pain or heart attack symptoms. These symptoms include pain or pressure in the arm, neck, jaw, or chest, nausea or heartburn, fatigue, sweating, dizziness, or shortness of breath. People who experience any of these symptoms should seek emergency medical attention immediately. Never assume it’s nothing; one in three deaths in the U.S. is the result of heart disease.
Next: Here’s some good news about ER visits.
The rate of adults dying in the ER has decreased nearly 50% in recent years
A study compared ER survival rates between 1997 and 2011 and found that the rate of adults dying in the ER dropped by 48% from 1997 to 2011. There wasn’t a clear explanation for the decline, but one likely reason was improvements in public health, such as more intense motor vehicle safety laws and drunk driving laws. Also, more people have been dying in “the comfort of their own home” rather than in an ER, which could be a reason for the decline as well.
Next: Why do people go to the ER versus a regular doctor?
Lack of access to providers is one of the main reasons people go to the ER
Many people who go to the ER don’t actually have an emergency. Rather, they lack access to a healthcare provider. This could be because they don’t have insurance, or simply because their regular physician’s office is closed. If a medical visit is required on a weekend, people tend to go to the ER because they think it’s the only option. However, if you don’t think your medical problem warrants an ER visit, it’s better to visit an urgent care center rather than the ER.
Next: How can you tell if you should go to the ER or a regular doctor?
How can you tell if your condition requires a trip to the ER?
It’s not always easy to determine what is a medical emergency and what isn’t. Injuries like minor burns and small cuts probably don’t require an ER visit. A fever, sore throat, cough, or the flu likely won’t send you to the ER. The flu can sometimes be a medical emergency, depending on the age and state of health of the infected person. For most minor injuries, sickness, etc., an urgent care center is the best option.
If you have persistent chest pain, any change in vision, mental confusion, severe stomach pains, or any type of head injury, it’s always better to visit the ER and be safe rather than sorry.
Next: Here’s how long the average ER trip takes.
Be prepared to wait if you go
ER visits aren’t usually quick. According to the CDC, only about 32% of patients are seen within 15 minutes of arriving to the ER (and those are usually patients who are in dire need of care). Insurance company Cigna collected data about the average ER visit and found that the average time spent during an ER visit was 4.6 hours. It’s better to be safe than sorry, but if you’re not in a true emergency, don’t expect the trip to be a quick one.
Next: Here’s how much money one ER visit could cost you.
Expect to pay more than a month’s rent for your visit
The average cost of an ER visit is no small bill, either. A study funded by the National Health Institute found the average ER trip to cost someone about 40% more than their average month’s rent. Bills for a headache ranged anywhere from $15 to more than $17,000. The study also showed that urinary tract infections could cost up to $70,000 depending on the problem. Luckily, insurance will probably cover most of the cost, but still expect to shell out quite a few dollars for the visit.
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