More People Eat Their Way Into the Hospital During the Holidays


The holiday season is synonymous with lots of food, family and fun. All that “cheer,” however, has a tendency to land large numbers of people in hospital.  

In fact, doctors and nurses at local hospitals say the days following Christmas and other major holidays are the busiest times of the year for their Emergency Departments because across the region people overeat, over drink and fail to pay attention to their diets.

Dr. Allen J. Taylor, chief of Cardiology at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, said that is certainly true at his hospital.

“Yes, I would definitely say the number of emergency hospital visits we receive after the holidays are because people tend to not pay attention to their diets during the holidays,” Taylor said.  “Our emergency visits increases 25 percent to 50 percent after the holidays because of this reason alone.”

The same is true at Howard University Hospital, said Dr. Fernando Daniels, an attending physician in the Emergency Department.

“It’s a traditional period where people break their diets,” Daniels said. “Patients can’t afford all the carbs, calories and salt found in typical holiday dishes.”

Consequently, the hospital gets “all types of emergency visits during the holidays,” said nurse Rosalyn Barney, a clinical coordinator in Howard’s Emergency Department.  

“We have hypertension patients or people who eat too much salt and patients with high blood sugar who have hyperglycemia,” Barney said.  “We have many patients that miss their dialysis.”

It’s the same at Prince George County Medical Hospital, where Dr. Douglas Mayo heads the Emergency Department.

“We see many cases of gastritis, pancreatitis and congestive heart failure due to a high level of salt intake,” Mayo said. “We also see a lot of patients who drank too much alcohol, which leads to hypertension and can increase your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.”

Dr. Bill Frohna, chair of Emergency Medicine at MedStar Washington Hospital, said people get wrapped up in the enjoyment of the season and lose control.

“They are with family or friends, and they either can’t control themselves, or they just throw their diets out the window and forget about it,” Frohna said.

According to the Howard University Hospital data, emergency visits there went from 125 on Christmas Eve 2011 to 98 Christmas day and climbed to 161 the day after Christmas 2011.   The number of emergency visits at the hospital this year during Thanksgiving went from 107 Thanksgiving Day to 142 the day after.

Taylor said he advises patients to do things in moderation during the holidays.

“Drinking alcohol during the holidays is fine, but over ingestion is not good,” he said.  “Don’t change your eating patterns. Try to stick to your normal foods. Overall, patients should eat in moderation, be consistent with their diet, and be aware of possible symptoms of heart attacks or chest pain.

Frohna said he tells patients to stay on their medication.

“They should take their medication as prescribed,” he said.  “If you are low on your medication, make sure you refill the bottle when approaching the holidays, and they should watch their diet.  

Barney offers similar advice.

“My advice is eat sensibly,” she said.  “Don’t eat too many carbohydrates or foods with too much sugar. They can also use sugar substitutes.  It taste the same but its just healthier for you. Patients should schedule their dialysis earlier, like before the holidays, so they don’t have to come in during or after the holidays.”