What types of ailments are handled in an emergency room (ER)?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

I agree with my colleagues that any and all physical ailments can be emergently evaluated, and treated in the emergency room. In addition to obvious physical injury or psychiatric illness, people may come to the emergency room for safe haven from domestic violence and abuse. The physical injuries may or may not be so obvious, but people experiencing such intimidation are in crisis and in need of emergency care. They can often be referred to a social worker, and law enforcement [per their consent] and counseled on how to meet immediate, short-term needs for food, clothing, bathing and shelter. The emergency room also serves as safe haven for infants who have been abandoned by parents for whatever reason.

Few questions are asked of these parents, and may include such questions as infant date of birth and any kind of medical history on the infant that the parents can offer. Parents do not need to explain why they are abandoning their infant. The infant is then given emergency room evaluation and treatment as needed, and referred for further care and evaluation by neonatologists, pediatricians and social workers. Emergency room personnel are also expected to be trained in disaster preparedness. People who have been exposed to hazardous chemical, biological or radiological material can come to the emergency room for decontamination and treatment. Some examples of hazardous material exposure on skin and clothing requiring decontamination could be gasoline, dust from a meth lab, chemicals released from overturned trucks on highways, chemical explosion in a laboratory, etc. Hazardous materials need to be removed immediately as they can cause illness in varying degrees, depending on the type of material and extent of exposure to the material.

One of the most fascinating aspects of emergency medicine is the huge range of maladies seen in patients who arrive on a daily basis. No other medical specialty has the variety of conditions an emergency room physician sees in a typical week.

Conditions that bring people to the emergency room can include:

  • Auto accidents
  • Sports injuries
  • A multitude of broken bones or cuts from accidents and falls
  • Burns
  • Uncontrollable bleeding
  • Heart attacks, chest pain
  • Difficulty in breathing, including asthma attacks and pneumonia
  • Strokes that can include loss of function and numbness in arms or legs
  • Loss of sight or hearing
  • Unconsciousness
  • Confusion or altered levels of consciousness (such as fainting)
  • Suicidal or homicidal thoughts
  • Drug overdoses
  • Severe abdominal pain and persistent vomiting
  • Food poisoning
  • Blood in vomit, urine, in bowel movements or when coughing
  • Severe allergic reactions that can be caused by insect bites, foods or medications
  • Complications from diseases and high fevers

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.