Thanksgiving is the unofficial kick-off to a month-long marathon of celebrating that includes bigger meals, more drinking and generally more overindulgence than usual. For those with existing health conditions like diabetes, limiting the intake of sugary holiday treats is a key step to avoiding a trip to the ER. People with heart conditions should be especially careful about the amount of salt they eat, as the number of people admitted to the hospital for heart failure increases in the days right after major holidays.
Overdoing it on the alcohol can have its own set of serious consequences, including falls, car crashes and other injuries. In addition, drinking too much alcohol can cause a temporary irregular heartbeat, even in people who don't have any known heart problems. This occurs so often around the holidays that doctors refer to it as holiday heart syndrome.
Holidays can be a painful reminder of lost loved ones and difficult times. This increase in depression, often dubbed the holiday blues, can result in ER visits for attempted suicide, substance abuse, and panic attacks. Some people might feel better if they accept fewer invitations and limit themselves to gatherings with select, supportive friends and family. Continue the stress relievers that you know work for you (e.g., exercise, journal writing, talking to friends), and allow yourself to be selective of the number of events you attend.
With long travel days, weeknight parties and endless shopping, the holidays are a recipe for exhaustion. But don't be too quick to chalk up important physical symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat, or abdominal pain to exhaustion. These symptoms can be warning signs of dangerous conditions for which you should see a doctor.
Marathon trips to the mall pose another danger. Standing still in long lines after skipping breakfast or not getting enough to drink can easily cause fainting. Get enough rest and stay hydrated. It's important to schedule in meals and rest periods if you plan on a long day of shopping, and make sure maintaining a regular sleep schedule is a priority.
Slips, trips, and falls in crowded aisles and icy parking lots are a common source of ER visits. Falls from ladders while hanging lights or topping the tree are also common, especially among older individuals. In fact, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, every year holiday decorating causes about 15,000 injuries that result in ER visits. Always have a spotter when hanging lights in hard-to-reach places, and avoid drinking alcohol before decking the halls.
New holiday toys can also injure people when learning how to use them. Last year at least 70 kids went to the hospital thanks to falls and collisions from the popular new hoverboard toys. Read and follow safety labels on product packaging and wear protective gear when appropriate to avoid injuries.
The pesky packaging that can only be opened with a pair of garden shears and an engineering degree causes many cuts that require a trip to the ER. Same goes for lacerations in the kitchen from carving the turkey or dicing sweet potatoes. Think twice and cut once!
When is the ER necessary?
What holiday mishaps and symptoms warrant a trip to the ER? It's not always easy to tell, and in fact 71 percent of ER docs say they treat patients every day who first went to urgent care and were then told they needed to go to the ER. Here's a good rule of thumb: For minor cold symptoms, stay home. For cuts, strains, and sprains, go to urgent care. If it's more serious, head for the hospital—particularly for chest discomfort, trouble breathing, neurologic symptoms (for example, dizziness, fainting, or weakness), new severe pain anywhere, and anything that causes great concern.
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