Every year the holiday season kicks off with Thanksgiving, which is also when there is a rise in certain injuries and illnesses. UAB physicians give their advice on how to treat and avoid these troubles so you can enjoy this holiday season with friends and family.
Chest Pain: Indigestion or Heart Attack?
You went a little heavy on the buffet and followed it up with the annual family football game. Now you’re kicked back in the recliner and a pain flares up in your chest.
UAB cardiologist, Alan Gertler, MD, says that indigestion is the most common cause of chest pain, which usually is a sharp pain. He sees a lot of this around the holidays because people tend to overeat, or they recline after large meals. Indigestion can sometimes be mistaken for a heart attack. However,heart attack symptoms typically consist of a heavy feeling in the chest followed by a shortness of breath, dizziness, sweating, and paleness. Gertler says if the chest pain is associated with symptoms such as shortness of breath, dizziness, and persisting pain for more than 15 minutes, then you should call 911.
A Flutter in the Chest
The holidays can cause stress for many, leading to irregular heart rhythms, which may feel like a flutter in your chest or like your heart is skipping a beat. Gertler says such arrhythmias are more prevalent around this time of year because of stress, drinking alcohol, ingesting more caffeine, and lack of sleep.
“It occurs around holidays as we prepare for large family gatherings which may include large quantities of food and, in some cases, alcoholic beverages,” says Gertler.
Gertler says stress around the holidays can be managed by exercise, relaxation techniques, and delegating responsibilities. People who are experiencing the new onset of irregular heart rhythms or have associated symptoms such as dizziness, chest pain, or shortness of breath should seek medical attention.
Twisted Ankles, Tweaked Backs, and Tinged Skin
With so much going on, it’s easy to have an accident around the holidays. Sprained ankles or broken bones can arise from the annual decorating of the house, and burns may be easier to come by if there are too many cooks in the kitchen.
Internist Stephen Russell, MD, says that orthopedic injuries are the most common injuries they see around the holidays. “Many of them happen while playing ball in the yard or hanging decorations.” Knowing your physical abilities will help prevent injuries to ankles and joints. If you’re hauling heavy boxes around the house, you can prevent back injuries by bending at the knees, not the waist, when lifting.
Russell says they see many cuts and burns as well. In the event of a cut that is deeper than a half or full inch, patients should seek medical attention. If treating at home, Russell recommends making sure the area of the cut is completely clean. Also, if it’s been a while since your last tetanus shot, you may need a booster to guard against infection. They can be given within 24 hours of the cut at a local primary care physician’s office.
Russell says that if burned, place the burned area under cold water. “Treat first with ice, but more extensive burns will blister up and require medical attention,” says Russell. More serious burns need to be evaluated as soon as possible.
Don’t Lose Your Leftovers
Improper storage of your leftovers, especially meat, could allow harmful bacteria to quickly spread.
One of the more notable issues Russell’s team sees is food poisoning due to food being left out. Refrigerate leftovers as soon as possible to prevent the spread of bacteria and save your food for later. Also, be careful when working with raw meat and use separate serving pieces before and after cooking items like a turkey.
Another food issue is cross-contamination of foods that can lead to an allergic reaction.
Be mindful if there is a new person to the family meal and inquire about any food allergies.
“Most people with food allergies are cautious, especially with the holidays, but we see an increase in allergic reactions due to cross-contamination,” says Russell. If you do have food allergies, always double check that you have medications and equipment, whether an EpiPen, Benadryl, or Claritin.
“For severe reactions seek urgent care, call 911,” says Russell.
Fight Off Flu
Flu can spread quickly, especially with holiday travel. Preparing now is the best way to guard against illness.
For the last five years, Russell says that flu season has been less predictable. He says to make sure to get a flu shot, and be mindful of your surroundings. And if others become ill, avoid contact to help prevent the flu.
“Wash your hands and use caution if you have children less than 2 months old, because their immune systems are less prepared,” says Russell. He says the elderly are also more susceptible to the flu virus.
Emergency Care Over the Holidays
Be aware of your resources during the season. Emergency rooms are open, and doctors’ offices have a physician on-call. “UAB has a variety of services,” says Russell. “If the situation is less severe call your physician, but if it is more severe seek treatment at the (nearest emergency department).” UAB has two emergency departments at UAB Hospital and UAB Hospital-Highlands, as well as an eye-only emergency room at UAB Callahan Eye Hospital.