The knowledge of potentially having an STD can cause most people to panic. That’s completely normal. However, it’s important to have a firm understanding of what’s an emergency and what’s not. Emergency departments need to have the resources available for patients with life-threatening situations. Visiting them without an urgent need can draw attention away from critical patients. So when should you go to the ER for an STD?
Is an STD an Emergency Situation?
Sexually transmitted diseases are slow. They progress slowly, become symptomatic slowly (if at all) and in general are not an emergency situation. Keep in mind also that many STDs will not test positive until some time after you get them. For the most part, visits to address STDs can wait for an appointment with a primary care physician or obgyn. You will save a great deal of time and money. However, there are always exceptions. So when you should go to the ER for an STD?
When Can I Go to the ER for an STD?
Many STDs will have serious long-term consequences that become life-threatening crises if they are untreated. HIV is a good example of this, where if left untreated the immune system will be weakened. The best approach is to address symptoms, not the disease (unless you newly came into contact with HIV). Most people will have an intuitive sense of when these symptoms are serious enough to visit the ER.
Here are some symptoms that need to be seen urgently:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Sudden fainting, dizziness, weakness or mental status changes
- Severe pain
- Uncontrolled bleeding
- Persistent vomiting/diarrhea
- Coughing/vomiting blood
One way to check to see if a symptom not on this list needs to be seen in an emergency room is to call ahead. Generally, the receptionist and triage nurse will be willing to answer questions.
Those that have a known chronic STD need to ask their primary care physician for the symptoms they should be worried enough about to visit an emergency room.
Where Should I Go After Hours?
If a primary care physician is not available because this came up at an odd time or the weekends, first decide if this is an issue that can wait until normal business hours. Chances are that if you are not experiencing severe or life-threatening symptoms, it can.
Urgent Care Facilities: They tend to keep expanded hours of operation, and can refer you to the emergency room in a true crisis.
Anonymous Lab Tests: Thanks to the Web, you can now get confidential testing by ordering online and then visiting a lab. Click here to see tests and prices, and local labs near you.
If You Have Just Been Exposed to HIV or AIDs, Go to the ER:
Assault: It is important to be seen directly afterwards to be checked for STDs after sexual assault. Keep in mind this is base-line testing and future testing will also be ordered. This will also give the physicians an opportunity to perform a full physical exam and collect evidence.
Immediate Exposure to HIV: Emergency drugs are available to fight back HIV if you know that you’ve just been put at real risk for contracting the virus. It can even be possible to eliminate the virus if it’s early enough.
This is not medical advice, but general information. Use your judgment and talk to your physician. The most important thing to remember is that emergency rooms are designed for dealing with life-threatening illness. While some emergency rooms are set up to accept non-urgent patients in “fast track” section, most will not be able to completely address an STD and will require follow-up appointments with primary care.
- Vinton, Deborah T., Roberta Capp, Sean P. Rooks, Jean T. Abbott, and Adit A. Ginde. “Frequent users of US emergency departments: characteristics and opportunities for intervention.” Emerg Med J(2014): emermed-2013.
- Bentley, Katherine. “The Impact of the Affordable Care Act on Emergency Room Utilization.” (2017).
- Vrees, Roxanne A. “Evaluation and management of female victims of sexual assault.” Obstetrical & gynecological survey72, no. 1 (2017): 39-53.
- Giesecke, Johan. Modern infectious disease epidemiology. CRC Press, 2017.