Chest Pains
What's Triage?

Triage is a system of prioritizing patients when they enter the ER, regardless of who got there first. Patients who need medical attention the most are those usually rushed in by ambulances and paramedics. They are at the top of the list to receive treatment. For people driving themselves or being brought by someone else, a nurse will ask a series of questions and take their vitals to determine how soon they need treatment. Although the system might seem unfair for patients waiting in discomfort or pain, prioritizing care through triage saves lives and helps emergency experts do their jobs as efficiently as possible [source: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality].

We're all familiar with depictions of heart patients in the ER. In classic cases, trained emergency personnel will pick up defibrillators to jumpstart or regulate the patient's heartbeat. "Clear!" Bzzzzz!

Emergency room experts know how to deal with dire cardiac situations, but even more common than heart attacks are chest pains, which might be precursors or signs of other health problems.

Though chest pains are still common in ERs, some reports suggest they're declining while other conditions such as stomach pains are on the rise [source: Brophy Marcus].

Still, doctors want patients to be aware of other signs that might indicate a situation is life-threatening. "Pressure-like" or "burning" chest pain coinciding with nausea, sweating or shortness of breath may signify a dangerous situation requiring emergency medical attention [source: Howell].

Chest pains should be examined particularly if the patient has a history of other medical conditions such as diabetes or coronary heart disease. In the United States, heart disease, which may result in emergency cardiac situations, is the leading cause of death, with more than a half a million people dying each year from heart complications [source: CDC].

Still, chest pains are by no means a death sentence. Although it's better to err on the safe side by visiting the ER, many chest pain cases result from temporary discomfort associated with gastrointestinal flare-ups [source: Mayo Clinic Staff].

The next reason to visit the ER has increased in recent years. Keep reading to see if you or someone you know has required emergency care for this condition.