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Published on September 26, 2016

The Urgency of a Medical Emergency

Over 130 million patients visit an emergency department (ED) in the U.S. each year. While all are not life-threatening emergencies, many are, or could be without treatment. But how do you know? Here are tips to help you recognize when and how to seek immediate medical care.

To Go or Not To Go?

Emergencies come in all varieties, and an injury does not have to be life-threatening to be considered an emergency and require the need for the specialized care offered by your Emergency Department.

The first thing you should do is assess your situation:

  • Do you feel this is a true emergency?
  • Do you feel it is life-threatening?

If you have a life-threatening emergency or suspect you are having a stroke or heart attack, call 9-1-1 immediately.

However, there are a number of other reasons to go to the Emergency Department.

When to Definitely Go the Emergency Department

  • Deep cuts that may require stitches or large open wounds that won’t heal
  • Broken bones, sprains or dislocated joints
  • Chest pain, especially if it radiates to your arm or jaw and is accompanied by sweating, vomiting or shortness of breath
  • High fevers or fevers with a rash
  • Abdominal pain
  • Serious burns
  • Sudden, severe headache
  • Chronic pain
  • Back pain
  • Sudden testicular pain and swelling
  • Painful urination
  • Head or eye injuries
  • Sudden vision changes, including blurred or double vision
  • Seizures
  • Heart palpitations
  • Newborn baby with a fever (a baby less than three months old with a temperature of 100.4 or higher needs to be seen right away)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Sudden weakness or paralysis, especially on one side of the face or body
  • Altered mental state or confusion, including suicidal thoughts
  • Sudden difficulty speaking or trouble understanding speech
  • Loss of balance or fainting
  • Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) symptoms
  • Dog bites and cat scratches
  • Post intoxication nausea, vomiting or headache

What to Expect

When you come to the ED, you will be evaluated by a triage nurse. Triage is not a case of first-come, first-served. More urgent cases will always have priority. Weekends and evenings are the busiest times, both for ambulance and walk-in patients. The quietest time in the ED is generally 4:00 – 10:00 a.m.

Have One Person Accompany You

Don’t bring a crowd to the ED with you, but it’s ideal to have someone with you to help you get home safely and get information to other loved ones if needed. The ED cannot release patient information to friends who call.

Stay Prepared – Just in Case

It’s always a good idea to carry the following with you:

  • Your medical insurance card and your ID documents
  • A list of your current medications and dosages
  • A list of any allergies
  • The name of your primary care physician and your pharmacy

Always Here, Always Open for You

At Cottage Health, our 24/7 emergency services are located in Santa Barbara, Goleta and Santa Ynez. Together, our hospitals see about 60,000 emergency visits each year.

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Media and Public Relations Contact

Maria Zate, Manager of Public Relations

Phone: 805-879-8986

Email: mzate@sbch.org