<< Back

Urgent or Emergent? Everything You Need to Know

January 25, 2023

We have all been there: illness or injury strikes and your doctor’s office is closed.

So where should you turn for medical help? Do you head to the emergency room or the nearest urgent care center?

Syed Z. Hussain, MD, medical director of Hartford HealthCare Urgent Care, explains the difference between a true medical emergency and what can be treated at urgent care.

> Find an Urgent Care Center near me

When to go to the ER or call 911

“We want to keep the emergency room for people who have severe medical emergencies that need to be dealt with,” says Dr. Hussain. “If you go to the emergency room with a cold or a sniffle, you will be impeding the care of more important issues that need to be taken care of immediately.”

But plenty of symptoms do warrant a trip to the hospital. If you experience any of the following, Dr. Hussain advises heading to the ER:

  • Chest or abdominal pain
  • Fainting or loss of consciousness
  • Sudden dizziness, weakness, palpitations or changes in vision
  • Severe shortness of breath
  • Severe and sudden onset of pain, or trouble walking
  • Vomiting or coughing up blood
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Head injury
  • Major bone break
  • Suicidal thoughts and feelings

So save yourself a trip – if you arrive at urgent care with any of the above symptoms, you will be redirected to the emergency room.

> Want more health news? Text StartHere to 85209 to sign up for text alerts

When to go to urgent care

Suffering from a minor laceration, bone break or fracture? Your local urgent care can still help.

“All of the Hartford HealthCare Urgent Cares have X-Rays. If someone has an ankle, knee or wrist sprain, for example, we can address that,” says Dr. Hussain.

When it comes to cuts, urgent care can stitch up minor wounds and stabilize larger wounds for emergent care.

Other conditions that can be treated at urgent care include:

  • COVID-19, flu or RSV testing
  • Minor burns, cuts, scrapes, wounds, lacerations, abscesses or boils
  • Minor sprains, strains, broken bones, fractures or dislocations
  • Rashes, insect bites or allergic reactions
  • Fever, cough, cold, flu, congestion or upper respiratory infections
  • Dehydration, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting or stomach flu
  • Migraines or headaches
  • Bronchitis, wheezing or asthma attacks
  • Ear infections, earaches or foreign body removal
  • Corneal abrasions, nose bleeds (packing available) or pink eye
  • Sore throat, strep throat
  • Urinary tract infections

And if it’s not urgent?

“You’ve still come to the right place,” says Dr. Hussain. “Urgent care offers routine and travel immunizations, along with additional services such as school, sport and camp physicals.”

Other services offered by urgent cares include:

  • Flu shots
  • Vaccinations
  • Diagnostic services, including X-Rays and laboratory tests
  • STD and HIV screening

Urgent care centers can also provide referrals for follow up care, such as an orthopedic referral for a broken bone. Not only will you save time at an urgent care, the significantly lower cost of care will save you money.