Why Emergency Room Visits Spike at Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Blog

You may think of it as turkey day, a day to visit with relatives you don’t see any other time of year, or a great day to watch football. But for the staff at your local ER, it’s one of the busiest days of the year.

Have you ever wondered why?

There are some pretty obvious culprits, like turkey fryer accidents, as well as some reasons that you may never have thought of before. Here are the most common problems that land folks in the emergency department on Thanksgiving.

Over Eating

It’s no surprise that many Americans tend to overeat during the holidays. It’s hard not to! Our holiday culture seems to revolve primarily around food. And no calendar day is more securely tied to eating than Thanksgiving.

But the biggest problem is not just the amount of food we consume, but rather what’s hidden in that food. The biggest problem is often the amount of salt we eat, without even realizing it.

Store-bought meats, and especially cured meats like ham, can be a huge source of sodium. Also, all of those gravies and other sauces are likely salted, and we may munch on snack mix or salted nuts while waiting for the main feast to begin.

Excessive consumption of sodium causes us to retain fluids and can lead to high blood pressure and all sorts of cardio problems including heart attacks. So when you’re loading your plate, go easy on the sauces. Try to stick with as many unprocessed foods as possible. And be sure to watch your portion sizes.

Food Poisoning

Thanksgiving often means cooking a variety of foods you don’t normally prepare. The turkey alone can be a danger if not properly handled. And inexperienced chefs can make big mistakes without even realizing it. Since nobody wants to spend the holiday weekend sick from food poisoning, careful food handling is a must.

When dealing with a frozen turkey, always thaw it completely in the refrigerator or using the cold water bath method. Next, make sure your bird is completely cooked before carving it up. That means the internal temperature must reach at least 165 degrees. And don’t trust the pop up thermometer. Use a meat thermometer and measure in three places: the thickest part of the breast, the inner thigh, and the wing.

Of course, even after Thanksgiving, food poisoning can continue to be an issue with leftovers. Don’t store cooked turkey in the fridge for any longer than four days. If you plan to keep it longer, stash it in the freezer and it’ll keep up to four months.


Since we tend to overindulge in more than just food on this holiday, intoxication is another big danger on Thanksgiving. DUI arrests are at their highest during the holiday season, and since the most travelled holiday period is Thanksgiving weekend, this can be a recipe for disaster. Be sure you have a designated driver or use a ridesharing service. And if you’re driving, be extra careful because you never know which other drivers may be impaired.

Cooking Accidents

Cooking the big meal is no small task. And when you’re distracted by a house full of guests, a to-do list a mile long, and perhaps a glass or two of your favorite adult beverage to calm the nerves, accidents are bound to happen. This all means that your local ER will be treating plenty of burns and cuts this Thanksgiving.

Deep fryers used to crisp the turkey cause over $15 million in property damages each year. And many of those accidents also come with injuries to the cook, or to kids or pets who got too close. If you’re going for a fried bird, be sure to use plenty of caution, keep the little ones well clear, and keep a fire extinguisher handy.

Cuts and lacerations are a really common Thanksgiving injury. Well-meaning but inexperienced kitchen helpers may not know much about knife safety. And intoxicated guests (and hosts) may cut themselves due to impaired coordination. If you’re on cooking duty, save the wine for later. And sometimes it’s best to refuse help from guests, even if you have your hands full. Too many cooks in the kitchen can lead to distractions and injuries.


For many, Thanksgiving is synonymous with football. Before or after the big game on TV, there’s often an informal family football game in the backyard. But those who are more accustomed to playing armchair quarterback should be careful not to overdo it. If you’re planning to play outside in the cold, be sure to warm up your muscles first. And listen to what your body’s telling you. If you’re getting winded and it’s only the second down of the first quarter, it might be safer to warm the bench.

Additionally, 5k “Turkey Trot” races have become popular all across the country. If you’re planning on running in one this year, be sure to train properly leading up to the race. During the event, stay hydrated, and don’t be afraid to slow down and catch your breath. Being first across the finish line won’t feel so great if you have to head to the nearest ER immediately after.

Get Care Delivered

No matter how careful you are, accidents do happen. It’s best to have a plan beforehand, so you know what to do in the case of an urgent medical need.

If you’re experiencing a true emergency such as a heart attack, every second counts. It’s important to seek medical attention immediately. But for lesser problems that are still urgent, a trip to the ER could put you at the end of a long line of patients.

Instead, have DispatchHealth come to your home to diagnose and treat you from the living room with minimal disruption to your holiday festivities. It’s a quicker, more convenient way to get treatment for all of your holiday medical needs. DispatchHealth can treat nearly everything an emergency room can, and accepts most major insurance to make it affordable. Each medical team consists of either a physician assistant or nurse practitioner, and a DispatchHealth medical technician (DHMT), along with an ER physician that is available by phone or video. We also make it exceptionally easy to schedule an appointment with us—you can do so through our website, mobile app, or by calling us.

The DispatchHealth blog provides tips, tricks and advice for improving lives through convenient, comfortable healthcare.

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