ER workers say overindulgence can trigger hospital visits

The presents may all be open at your house, but the holiday action is far from over for emergency room doctors and nurses, who are going into work today braced for the post-Christmas bustle.

Just like at home, the holiday often follows a predictable pattern in the ER, said Dr. Hiten Upadhyay, an emergency physician at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg.

Christmas morning is quiet while people open presents and head to church. But as we digest our holiday meals in the evening, activity at the hospital begins to pick up. By today — the day after Christmas — Bayfront's ER is typically swamped.

People come in with problems ranging from congestive heart failure to diabetic complications. Gastrointestinal problems are common, and some patients may be experiencing seizures set off by skipped medications.

"They're eating too much, drinking too much, too much salt," Upadhyay said. "A combination of things just throws them into a ER visit, because it's too much, too fast."

So go the holidays: indulging in rich food and festive drinks, stringing up the twinkling lights, racing around with out-of-town guests. It sounds like holiday fun to most of us, but ER physicians see danger in such seasonal activities.

"You can't be on good behavior all the time, but just be careful," said Dr. Charles Sand, an emergency physician at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa. "It's about preventive care and not indulging too much."

Even before the holidays were in full swing, Sand was busy dealing with accidents. He sees serious injuries among middle-aged and older adults who overestimate their physical prowess while hanging holiday lights, and fall from ladders and roofs.

Drunken driving trauma is another seasonal concern for hospitals, he noted, with people especially prone to excessive drinking all the way through the New Year's countdown.

Holiday stress is another factor in local ER traffic. The season brings out feelings of loneliness and depression, and family get-togethers can become emotionally charged. Under pressure, some people smoke and drink heavily, potentially making matters worse for their health.

"We'll see the people who lose their coping mechanisms and their abilities to deal with (stress)," said Dr. Stephen Feilinger, an emergency physician with St. Anthony's Hospital in St. Petersburg. "They will come to us looking for assistance and sometimes direction."

The flow of traffic to local emergency rooms in the days after Christmas is exacerbated by the fact that many doctor's offices are closed around the holiday. People aren't able to get their symptoms checked by their primary care doctors and regular physicians.

But doctors say with a little planning, it's entirely possible to skirt a holiday dash to the ER. Here are some tips:

• Keep up with medications, especially if you are diabetic or have hypertension.

• Before going on a trip, write down your medication list and contact information for your doctors on a small note card.

• Prepare for holiday stress. Keeping up with exercise routines, for example, provides a healthy outlet to deal with pressure.

• Tread lightly with fat, sugar, salt and alcohol. Not only will you enjoy the holidays more if you stay out of the ER, you won't be a step behind when it comes time to make good on healthful New Year's resolutions.

ER workers say overindulgence can trigger hospital visits 12/25/09 [Last modified: Friday, December 25, 2009 10:14pm]

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