Should I go to the emergency room or urgent care?

December 05, 2022

Kid in an ER with her mom and a woman doctor

Urgent care centers are ideal for handling medical issues that are not life-threatening such as colds, simple sprains and minor cuts or burns.

But if a true medical emergency arises, you’ll want to head directly to an emergency room, where physicians specializing in emergency medicine can provide immediate care and consultation.  

“When facing a serious medical issue, don’t hesitate to call 911 for an ambulance or – if the situation allows for it – to drive the patient immediately to an emergency room,” says Elena Garrett M.D., board-certified emergency medicine physician. “In cases of a possible heart attack or stroke , getting treatment as soon as possible saves lives.”

When to go to urgent care

Most urgent care centers are able to handle everyday medical conditions, such as:

  • Common colds and viruses, including flu and strep throat 
  • Infections, including bronchitis and sinus infections, as well as urinary tract infections
  • Minor cuts or burns
  • Skin rashes

Many urgent care centers also provide basic preventative care services including flu shots and other vaccinations, school sports physicals and well-baby checkups.

When to go to the emergency room

For any issue that is life-threatening – or which involves severe injury – you should go directly to the emergency room. Conditions requiring immediate emergency room attention include:

  • Chest pain or other possible heart attack symptoms, including pain in jaw, neck or arm
  • Stroke symptoms, including numbness or weakness in legs or arms, facial drooping, difficulty speaking, sudden severe headache or loss of balance 
  • Head injury with loss of consciousness
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Broken bones
  • Bleeding during pregnancy or bleeding from an injury, which won’t subside
  • Severe burns
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Poison ingestion or drug overdose
  • Gunshot wounds

Specialized care

When a health crisis hits and seconds matter, you want to choose an emergency room team that’s equipped to handle your issue. Riverside Health System has 24/7 emergency rooms providing lifesaving care at: 

  • Riverside Doctors’ Hospital Williamsburg, Williamsburg
  • Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital, Onancock on the Eastern Shore
  • Riverside Walter Reed Hospital, Gloucester on the Middle Peninsula
  • Riverside Regional Medical Center, Newport News

Riverside Regional Medical Center is home to the only accredited emergency and trauma center serving the Virginia Peninsula and surrounding areas. At each hospital, our teams of board-certified emergency physicians are on staff 24/7 to provide you with lifesaving care. 

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