9 Reasons for Holiday Emergencies — and How You Can Avoid Them

Best tips to stay well during the season

Close-up of full champagne flutes

Even during the most festive time of year, the unexpected can happen—including a visit to the emergency department.

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To help you avoid the hospital over the holidays, emergency medical physician Baruch Fertel, MD, has compiled a list of the most common problems he sees at this time of year.

1. Missed or rescheduled appointments

Holiday weeks and reduced office hours throw off some people’s medical care, setting them up for an emergency trip to the hospital. For example, if a dialysis patient usually has a session on Friday or  Saturday, reduced hours over the holidays may disrupt that routine.

To help offset scheduling issues, Dr. Fertel says to be sure to keep communication open between you and your doctor.

2. Too much salt

Heart patients and dialysis patients, in particular, are highly sensitive to the salt in many foods that are staples at holiday celebrations. They often overeat, and their bodies can’t process the extra salt, so they retain extra fluid.

3. Forgotten medications

Some patients don’t bother taking their medications on short trips during the holidays. This choice can be disastrous for a person with diabetes or high blood pressure and can even send them to the hospital with hyperglycemia or shortness of breath, Dr. Fertel says. Avoid this problem by always carrying your medications—even on short trips.

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4. Deep cuts

Knife accidents are more common during the holidays, Dr. Fertel says.

People bring out cutlery they don’t use very often to cut turkeys or hams for large holiday dinners. It’s easy to lose your grip on an unfamiliar knife and cut a finger or hand.

5. Falls

Although slippery sidewalks send some adults to the hospital, the more common emergency patient is an elderly person who isn’t used to much standing or walking. Over time, they become fatigued at holiday gatherings. They’re more likely to lose their balance and fall.

6. Altercations/fights

Large holiday gatherings can bring people together who don’t always get along. Add to the mix alcohol and cold weather, which keeps many people indoors at close quarters. Conflicts can happen, which can even become physical.

7. Stomach problems

Limiting food and alcohol consumption can help sidestep some stomach-related problems. However, hospitals often see two types during the holidays:

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  • A person who overeats or drinks too much may seek emergency treatment for abdominal discomfort.
  • Food poisoning from a dish that wasn’t prepared using proper food safety precautions sends some people to the hospital on every holiday.

8. ‘Holiday heart’ syndrome

Heavy drinking can cause an otherwise healthy person to develop abnormal heart rhythms. Too much alcohol can create electrical impulses that lead to atrial fibrillation or other arrhythmias, Dr. Fertel says.

The condition is usually temporary, but it’s often scary enough to send someone to the hospital.

9. Depression

The holidays are a particularly difficult time of year for some people. In extreme cases, suicidal thoughts or actions can lead to an Emergency Department visit during the holidays, Dr. Fertel says.

He encourages people who feel sad or depressed to seek help from a professional and also to stay in touch with other people—go out to dinner or see a movie rather than staying home alone.

It’s important for all of us to feel connected, he says.

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