“Good” Reasons To Go To ER


When is a trip to the emergency room really necessary, and how to get the best treatment once you’re there? Dr. Zachary Levine gives his answer.

Q. I recently went to the ER for a large cut that required stitches. Where  I waited 10 hours. What are considered “good” reasons to go to the ER? What is the best way to be seen quickly in the ER, and when?

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A: Dr. Zachary Levine — Reasons to go to the emergency room include chest pain, shortness of breath, weakness or numbness or inability to speak or see or walk, uncontrollable pain, and serious injuries. People with unstable vital signs, meaning heart rate, blood pressure, oxygenation and temperature abnormalities may be seen more quickly. If you are experiencing symptoms that are of concern for a heart attack, stroke or other life-threatening illness, it is a good idea to call an ambulance so that the paramedics can begin assessing and treating you en route. Do not drive yourself.

At the ER, the life-threatening cases are seen immediately, no matter when they arrive. Generally, patients’ complaints are assigned a triage code based on the danger they pose to the patient’s well-being. This means that if there are many life-threatening cases that come in, those patients with less dangerous reasons for presenting will have to wait longer. There is no clear best time to go to the ER. Typically fewer people come to the emergency room in the early morning (4 a.m. to 7 a.m.) and on the weekend, but often these are the times when there are fewer physicians on duty, and so wait times may not be shorter.

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It is very helpful to the treating team if you have a list of the medications you take (with doses) as well as your past medical and surgical history and the names and contact information for your doctors.

There are many other reasons in addition to these to come to the emergency room or see a doctor and, if you’re not sure, most provinces have health assistance phone numbers to advise you.

Dr. Zachary Levine is an Assistant Professor  in the Faculty of Medicine at McGill University Health Centre and medical correspondent for AM 740 (a ZoomerMedia property).