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6 unexpectedly common reasons people end up in the ER

By Salt Lake Regional Medical Center  |  Posted Apr 20th, 2017 @ 3:00pm



We all have ideas of what an ER patient looks like either from experience or from our favorite episodes of "General Hospital" and "Grey's Anatomy," but not every patient comes in with a heart attack, broken leg or cuts and burns. Turns out, there are a lot of reasons people show up to the emergency room — and they aren't always what you'd expect.

Abdominal pain

According to a study conducted by the CDC in 2007, the leading reasons patients cited for their ER visits were for chest pain and abdominal pain. Abdominal pain can be caused by something as mild as indigestion or irritable bowel syndrome to more severe issues like kidney stones or appendicitis.

Localized, severe pain in the lower or upper right regions of your abdomen can indicate an infection in the appendix or gall bladder that may need surgery.


Heart attacks are among the top reasons people rush to the hospital, but sometimes, the pain they're experiencing isn't a heart attack at all.

Although anxiety is a mental condition, it can cause real physical symptoms that can mimic a heart attack, including shortness of breath, heart palpitations, fatigue, headaches and chest pain. Often, if someone has never experienced a panic attack before, they think they're having a heart attack. In fact, as many as 40 percent of patients with panic disorder have sought treatment for chest pain.

Exercise-related pain

Yep, you read that right. Overexertion, particularly from working out, can cause physical symptoms that send patients to the ER. Whether from lifting too much or with poor technique, or failing to drink enough water, many people can experience back or chest pain or dehydration symptoms (such as dizziness and fatigue) and mistake these symptoms for more serious conditions.

Luckily, in these cases, rest, and hydration are often enough to take care of the issue. However, if more serious injury occurred, see a physician.

Orthopaedic injuries

Your feet can withstand a lot of pressure. But they're not invincible. According to the NEISS, the number one reason for injury-related ER visits are from steps and stairs.

ER doctors see many patients arrive with foot fractures, sprains, or breaks--especially during football season. But year-round, people find ways to injure their feet. Whether they're playing a game of pickup, walking on a wet floor, or tripping down the stairs, foot injuries keep hospital staff busy all year.

Period pain

It might sound funny, but one of the most common reasons women go to the ER is for period-related symptoms. Menstrual cramps typically manifest as abdominal and lower back pain, but for some women, the pain is so severe and chronic (recurring monthly for six months) that they end up in the emergency room.

If the pain is severe and prevents you from participating in daily activities, consult with your doctor or go to the ER. Over-the-counter painkillers like ibuprofen or a heating pack should relieve normal menstrual cramps. But if they persist, it could be a sign of more serious conditions such as endometriosis or an ectopic pregnancy.


You might think that toothaches would send people to the dentist, but sometimes dental pain can't wait. Patients typically head to the ER after regular business hours when the dental office is closed.

Some of the most common reasons for their urgent visit is due to severe pain from tooth decay or abscesses. If the abscess(es) is accessible, the ER doctor will drain the pus and possibly prescribe pain medications. A follow-up appointment with their dentists is recommended.

However, if left untreated, dental issues can lead to a serious infection that spreads through the whole body and cause a long stay in the hospital. Because of this, it is important to address tooth-related symptoms as soon as possible so the condition doesn't escalate to something more serious.

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