Millions of ER visits occur each year, but how many of them are completely necessary? While there are many reasons to visit the emergency room, there are some illnesses, wounds or symptoms that require definite, immediate medical attention. And while we all hope to never need these services, it's important to know when you or a loved one may need urgent medical help.

Here are the top five reasons to visit the emergency room:

Chest Pain

According to Alaska Regional Hospital's Dr. Mike Levy, not all heart attacks begin with a sudden, crippling pain as you often see on TV. They can also develop slowly over hours or days. Most involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes or goes and comes back, often feeling like an uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain. Learn about the difference between heartburn and a heart attack.

Stroke Symptoms

Dr. Jennifer Dow explains how to act FAST to help prevent death or disability.

  • F: Facial Weakness ” Ask the person to smile. Does one side of their face droop?
  • A: Arm Weakness ” Ask them to raise both their arms. Does one drift downward?
  • S: Speech Difficulty ” Ask them to repeat a simple sentence. Do they sound strange?
  • T: Time is Ticking ” If you recognize these symptoms in yourself or someone else, call 911 immediately.

Serious Head Injuries

Depending on the location and severity, symptoms of a traumatic brain injury can include headache, loss of consciousness, slurred speech, nausea, weakness or numbness in the extremities and seizures. Click here for more information on the types of traumatic brain injuries and their symptoms.

Excessive Bleeding

Minor cuts and scrapes can usually be handled at home, but many open wounds require emergency care. Those with 10 to 20 minutes of persistent bleeding after applying direct pressure should be treated at the ER to reduce the risk of excessive blood loss or infection.


Certain ingested poisons should be dealt with immediately at home, sooner than it would take to drive to the ER or for the ambulance to arrive. It's important to call the Poison Center Hotline at 1-800-222-1222 if you suspect a poisoning emergency. This preliminary treatment can help save a life before arriving at the emergency room.

Familiarizing yourself with signs and symptoms of each of these can help you to know when seeking immediate medical care is the right decision.

For more health questions, visit our Emergency section.