People seek emergency medical care for a variety of reasons. Here at Neighbors Emergency Center, we track diagnoses daily for all patients. As we approach the end of the year, we’re sharing a closer look at our trends in emergency department visits.
Here are the top 5 diagnoses we’re seeing at our six emergency centers across the Greater Houston area:
Click below to jump ahead:
Nearly 9% of all patients we’ve seen in the last months of 2022 were diagnosed with the flu (influenza), making it our most common ER diagnosis. Flu season in the U.S. typically overlaps with the winter months, beginning in October and peaking in January or February. Influenza is an infection in the respiratory system within the nose, throat and lungs. Unlike the common cold that typically comes on slowly, flu symptoms can appear suddenly. Common symptoms include:
- Muscle aches
- Sore throat
- Persistent, dry cough
- Shortness of breath
- Stuffy or runny nose
- Eye pain
- Vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children)
For most patients, a simple treatment of plenty of rest and drinking fluids will help the infection go away on its own. But sometimes, severe complications can develop. Seek out emergency care if you’re experiencing any of the following flu symptoms:
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pain
- Ongoing dizziness
- Worsening of existing medical conditions
- Severe weakness or muscle pain
- Pale, gray or blue-colored skin, lips or nail beds — depending on skin color
Flu season is just getting started, and making a flu shot appointment is the best way to prevent severe complications that would land you in the emergency room.
2. Respiratory illnesses
Respiratory illnesses affect the upper and lower mechanisms of our respiratory tract, including the nose, throat, pharynx, larynx, bronchial tubes, and lungs. The most common type of respiratory illness we see this time of year is the common cold, but infections such as sinusitis, laryngitis, pharyngitis, epiglottitis, bronchitis, and pneumonia also fall in this category. Here at Neighbors, we track the latter set of diagnoses separately, so we’ll speak more on the common cold.
Typical cold symptoms like runny nose, sneezing, nasal congestion, sore throat, and cough are brought on by inflammation in the mucous membranes of the upper respiratory tract. Similarly to the flu, colds appear more in the winter months due to the drier air. Most colds do not merit a visit to the ER and should be waited out at home with lots of rest, fluids, and maybe some over-the-counter pain relievers if needed. Colds can evolve into influenza if the symptoms escalate quickly, particularly when the patient has a sustained high fever (102 or higher).
If you have a high fever for more than two days and any combination of the below flu-like symptoms, seek medical care immediately:
- Severe chest pain
- Vertigo or lightheadedness
- Severe vomiting
A fever is an immune system response and can be caused by an infection, virus, vaccination, or heat exhaustion, among other health conditions. Normal body temperature is typically 98.6°F (37°C), but anything over 100°F (37.8°C) is considered a fever. Fevers can cause discomfort for both children and adults, but that doesn’t always mean there’s cause for concern. However, even low-grade fevers could indicate something more serious for infants and should be monitored closely. A few symptoms of having a fever are:
- Body aches
- General fatigue or weakness
- Loss of appetite
More often than not, a fever goes away within a few days on its own. Over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) can help lower the fever and ease the discomfort of any symptoms, but taking these is not always necessary.
If you have a sustained high fever (102 or higher) for two or more days, make sure to call your doctor and seek medical attention. Your doctor can treat any underlying infection or other cause if one is diagnosed. Go to the ER immediately if you experience any of these symptoms along with a high fever:
- Confusion or hallucinations
- Purplish-red, dotted rash
- Rapid pulse or heart rate
- Severe abdominal pain
- Severe headache or stiff neck
- Shortness of breath
- Unusual lethargy or drowsiness
Next on our list is hypertension, or high blood pressure, which is the elevated pressure of blood against the walls of your arteries. Several factors can lead to hypertension, and it’s often linked to unhealthy lifestyle choices like poor diet and lack of exercise. Other potential causes include:
- Being overweight or obese
- Genetics and race
- Family history of high blood pressure
- Older age
People diagnosed with hypertension often experience no symptoms, even when blood pressure is approaching dangerously high levels or those high levels have been happening for years. The only reliable way to tell if blood pressure is too high is by measuring it — normal blood pressure is less than 120/80, and hypertension is diagnosed for blood pressure levels above 140/90.
If left untreated, hypertension can dramatically increase the risk of stroke, heart attack, or other serious health issues. Symptoms like headaches, vomiting, seizures, chest pain, shortness of breath, and a rapid heartbeat are often signals of a hypertensive emergency. Treatment for high blood pressure can come in the form of healthy lifestyle choices, like eating well, exercising regularly, and avoiding smoking and alcohol, or it may be treated with medication.
5. Motor vehicle accidents
With an average of 6 million car accidents per year happening in the U.S., and 500 thousand of those coming from Texas roads, motor vehicle accidents will, unfortunately, have a likely spot in the top 5 diagnoses we see in emergency room trends, regardless of the time of year. This likelihood increases in wetter, colder months with more precipitation, creating dangerous road conditions.
When a patient comes to one of our emergency rooms after an accident, the most important thing for us to do is a thorough physical examination. Findings of that examination help doctors determine if the body has lacerations, contusions, sprains, or broken bones, and if more detailed imaging (X-rays or CT scans) is needed to decide the right course of treatment. While most motor vehicle accidents do not result in serious bodily injuries like head injuries, they almost always cause emotional distress and pain from muscle spasms and strains (whiplash). Depending on the type and severity of the injuries, healing from a motor vehicle accident can take days to several months.
Extraordinary emergency care for any ailment
Changing seasons can affect what sends people to the emergency room. No matter what ails you or your loved ones, you can always count on your Best Neighbors Ever to provide you with compassionate care 24/7/365, even on holidays. Find your nearest Neighbors location.