When Pain Won't Wait: Making Your Voice Heard in Emergency Care

A woman on her hospital bed talks with her doctor.
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Pain is one of the most common reasons people seek immediate medical care, whether in an urgent care or emergency department.

Unfortunately, there is no test for pain, so an accurate description is the only way for doctors and nurses to understand how you feel and make a diagnosis.

That's because pain is usually caused by a medical condition. Your ability to make your voice heard is the best way to help your doctor find out what's wrong - and address your pain.

If you're dealing with a health crisis, AdventHealth doctors and nurses will focus on your whole-person health, including your mind, body and spirit. We understand that anxiety and worry can heighten pain, so putting you at ease is more than compassionate care.

It's good medicine.

We've put together some important tips and talking points to help make your treatment in the urgent care or emergency department as effective as possible.

Asking the Right Questions

Listening is a big part of compassion. And when it comes to pain, it can be frustrating to feel as if you're not being heard.

During a crisis, being in severe pain can make it especially difficult to concentrate on the details of your discomfort. Doctors will do their best to understand, but if you can answer questions in a clear, straightforward way, your care team will be able to diagnose your problem faster.

It may help to describe your pain to someone else first, both to give you practice and so that your companion can help communicate with your doctor.

1. Where is the pain?

Being as precise as possible is important because pain has different causes depending on the specific area it originates from.

Pain in the "upper right abdomen" is a better description than "stomach pain." And if your pain moves around - perhaps it radiates elsewhere in the body - mention that detail.

2. When does the pain occur?

If you're seeking immediate help, you are probably in pain now. Unless your pain is caused by a recent injury, consider whether you experience pain at other points in your day, too.

Perhaps you've felt pain in the morning, or at night before bed. Or it may hurt when you exercise or sit for long periods of time.

3. How long have you been in pain?

Again, unless your pain only started recently, consider how long you've been in pain. It may help to think about milestones in your life. Were you experiencing pain during a recent vacation or family reunion?

4. What type of pain is it?

We have all felt different kinds of pain. A throbbing headache, a burn from a stovetop and a cut from a knife all hurt, but not in the same way.

Describing your pain in terms such as "sharp and stabbing, burning, shooting or dull and aching" may help your doctors.

5. How bad does it hurt?

Your doctor may ask you to rate your pain on a scale from 1 to 10, where 10 is the worst pain you can imagine. Of course, each number can mean different things to different people, so here's how doctors may interpret the number you choose.

If you're seeking immediate help for pain, it's probably above mild pain, or levels one through three.

Pain is believed to interfere with daily life at level four, but it can be ignored until level six.

Severe pain is considered to be disabling, preventing you from carrying out normal activities, and starts at level seven. At level nine, pain is excruciating, and a patient at level 10 would probably not be able to hold a conversation about it.

Find the Right Setting

If you have long-term back pain, the emergency room may not be your best option. Unless your pain is intolerable, consider setting up an appointment with your regular, primary care doctor.

Likewise, urgent care may be a better choice than the emergency department, even for immediate pain. Urgent care is a quick and affordable option, and they treat more conditions than you may think.

Perhaps you or a child has an ear infection that's causing pain. Your best bet, in this case, is probably to consider urgent care.

But there are some types of pain, especially chest pain, that should lead you straight to an emergency room.

No matter where you're seen, our whole-body approach treats the causes of your pain, both physically and emotionally - when it's worsened by anxiety and fear.

Record Your Pain

Unless pain sends you to urgent care or the emergency department right away, jot down some specifics about your pain. Record when you first felt pain, and whether it may have been triggered by an activity like eating or exercising.

Prepare, If You Can

Clearly describing your pain when you're living it can be a difficult request.

Again, if you're bringing a companion, consider talking about your pain with this person to help you practice.

Persist Through Pain

We know that caring for the mind is part of healing the body, and nowhere is this more true than pain. Our emotions can set the tone for our bodies, and feeling sad or depressed can prime the body to feel pain.

At AdventHealth, one of the tools to maintain health is to consider our outlook. It's tough to maintain a positive attitude if you're in a health crisis, but if we can help you communicate about your pain, it will seem easier to beat.

Living without severe pain is not too much to ask, but your pain may not entirely go away overnight - nor, in some cases, should it. Pain can be a reminder to, say, stay off a sprained ankle.

In other words, your doctor's goal may be to reduce your pain to a level where it doesn't interfere with your daily activities.

Follow Up With Your Doctor

Be sure to bring up your pain with your primary care physician, who may not know about an emergency department visit unless you tell them. Your regular doctor is the one who is best suited to help you come up with a long-term plan to treat your pain.

Whether in urgent care or the emergency department, our AdventHealth physicians are ready to listen to you about your pain. If urgent care fits your needs, visit your local AdventHealth Centra Care or AdventHealth Express Care at Walgreens location.

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