In medical terms, a trauma is not the same as an emergency. Separate facilities exist to treat each type of injury – trauma centers and emergency rooms (ERs). Knowing the difference between a trauma and an emergency can help you or a loved one get the proper type of medical care promptly. In the event of any kind of emergency situation or physical trauma, call 911 and report the symptoms. Medical personnel will be able to direct you to the appropriate action.
What Is a Trauma?
In general, a trauma is a type of injury that stems from an outside source. Traumas often occur in accidents such as car crashes, falls, fires, animal attacks, and acts of violence. Traumas typically happen suddenly and unexpectedly, putting the victim at serious risk of harm or death. Traumas require acute emergency medical care and triage. Every year, almost 200,000 people die from traumatic injuries in the U.S. The most common cause of traumas is “injury and violence.”
Traumas can happen to anyone at any time, but the age group of 15 to 24 accounts for the greatest number of trauma-related deaths. In a trauma center setting, there are two main categories of trauma: life-threatening and not life-threatening. A Category 1 trauma is a severe, life-threatening type of injury, such as a traumatic brain or spinal cord injury. A Category 2 trauma is not quite as severe and does not threaten the victim’s life. Trauma centers will treat Category 1 patients sooner than Category 2.
Burns and shocks are types of trauma injuries that often arise after car accidents, violent attacks, or other harmful incidents. The victim can go into a state of shock when blood pressure plummets too low to pump enough blood to the body’s tissues. Cold and clammy skin, weak pulse, and irregular breathing are signs of shock. Burns is another severe trauma type that can cause tissue death, shock, infection, amputation, and death.
What Is an Emergency?
Emergencies aren’t always injury or accident-related. They can stem from other health and safety issues such as cardiac arrest, stroke, or accidental poisoning. A patient may require emergency medical care if he or she experiences an abrupt change or onset of symptoms. “Emergency” symptoms can include bleeding, chest pain, difficulty breathing, or a drooping face. While a physical injury could also qualify as an “emergency,” physical injuries are typically trauma-type emergencies that require special care.
In ERs, medical personnel will classify emergency cases on a scale of one to five (a scale called the Emergency Severity Index or ESI), with one being the most severe. Nurses gauge the ESI of an emergency medical situation based on the patient’s symptoms. Level five emergencies are non-urgent, with stable patients who can reasonably wait for treatment. Level four is less urgent emergencies, with stable patients with only one type of resource needed, such as an x-ray.
Level three emergencies are still stable, but “urgent,” with more than one resource likely necessary. Symptoms such as high fever and abdominal pain are examples of level three emergencies. In a level two emergency, the patient might not be stable and show signs of high risk of deterioration or a time-sensitive problem. Level one emergencies are the most serious. Patients are not stable and require immediate, life-saving treatment without delay. Massive bleeding or heart attack are examples of level one emergencies. All types of traumas and emergencies deserve immediate medical attention.