ER? Urgent Care? Primary Care? What to do when you’re not feeling well.


At times, even the healthiest of us can experience something that makes us take pause. This can lead to Googling our symptoms and wondering, “Should I go to an Emergency Department? Urgent Care center? Contact a primary care provider? Just wait it out??” 

Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple answer to these questions. Ignoring every symptom could create a problem at some point, while going to the ER for every symptom would require lots of time, patience and potential expenses.


So, how do you determine what to do when you’re not feeling well? We suggest using the ABCDE’s below to help identify when your situation may be an emergency that needs to be evaluated immediately:

A - Airway: If there is anything compromising your ability to breath or imposing a pending blockage to your airway, you should call 911. These issues might include a traumatic injury to your face or neck, inhalation of a solid object into the windpipe, a significant infection of the pharynx, neck or area under the tongue, or an allergic reaction causing tongue swelling.

B - Breathing: If you have no airway compromise, you could still be experiencing a serious condition that causes you to feel short of breath. If the shortness of breath is sudden or increasing, it is a good idea to call 911. Conditions causing significant breathing issues include a heart attack, a bad asthma attack, severe pneumonia, trauma to the chest, a deflated lung or a blood clot to the lung.

C - Circulation: Circulation refers to your cardiovascular system. Issues that can occur to this system are present via a wide variety of symptoms:

  • Heart: Chest pain, nausea, sweating, dizziness, palpitations
  • Brain: Severe numbness or weakness on one side of your body, severe headaches or trouble speaking
  • Eyes: Sudden onset of blindness in one eye
  • Abdominal organs: Severe pain and or abdominal distention
  • Extremities: Worsening pain, numbness or blue color to your hands or feet

D - Deformity: It’ll likely be pretty obvious if you need to go to the ER for this one. If there is deformity of an extremity or bone after an accident or any type of large laceration, accompanied by significant pain, then you need to go to an ER.

E - Exposure: If you’ve had any type of exposure to severe elements like heat, cold, noxious gases or liquids, it’s better to head to the ER and be safe than sorry. Most concerning exposures are obvious and will usually cause symptoms like skin burning, eye tearing, salivating, coughing, vomiting, diarrhea or severe dizziness.

While the above provides some guidance, it certainly doesn’t cover all potential emergencies. If you’re unsure as to whether your situation counts as an emergency, you should err on the side of caution and call 911. You can always reach out to us as well if you’re unsure on what to do next.

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