When to Take Your Jolly Old Self to the ER

The holidays can bring great joy, good cheer — and sometimes a lot of pain

You’re gathered with family and friends, cooking up an incredible holiday meal. There are games being played in the other room and the kids are busy having fun outside.

All is calm, all is bright, until your aunt slips and falls on a small patch of ice while trying to make her way into the house — and she tried saving her homemade cranberries instead of herself. She’s dizzy, she might have a broken wrist, and you’re just about to sit down to eat.

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Ice it and give her ibuprofen — or head to the ER?

The holidays are often interrupted with trips to the emergency room, Dr. Matthew J. Lurin, associate director of the Department of Emergency Medicine at South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside, New York, told LifeZette. It is in part due to closed doctors’ offices at this time of year — but also due to illness and injury this time of year.

Lurin shared three additional insights for a healthy end of year:

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1.) The Most Common Reasons for ER Visits
“That would include headaches, abdominal pains, chest pains, and some sort of injury — a fall, a car accident, or similar. Fevers and infectious-related injuries are likely right up there as well. These five seem consistently related to what we see most, though the order may vary by season.”

2.) Most Important Advice for Staying Healthy This Season 
“Avoid overindulgence. Whether it’s eating too much, drinking too much, or staying outside in the cold for too long — all of these can and do take a toll on the body. While it’s wonderful to spend the holidays with family and friends, there are ways to enjoy the time without overdoing it. If you focus on what the holidays are meant to symbolize and not what the marketing machine has made them, you will likely have fun and stay safe as well. That said, enjoying the holidays with friends and family, in moderation, and thinking of those unable to, may make this a rewarding holiday season for everyone.”

3.) Most Humorous Insight into Staying Healthy at This Time of Year
“Try not to eat the yellow snow.”

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Amy Kaji,  M.D., Ph.D., stressed that limits are important this time of year.

“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,” said Kaji, an associate professor of emergency medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

Depression, exhaustion, falls and cuts round out what she says are the top five reasons families often find themselves rushing to the ER.

Related: Keep Your Sanity This Christmas

Maintaining a regular sleep schedule should be a priority, Kaji said. And 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 may be warning signs you’ve got a problem and need to see a doctor.

When is the ER necessary? A good rule of thumb, according to Kaji: “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 — and new severe pain anywhere.” Go as well, she said, for “anything that causes great concern.”

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