BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in: Health
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Background Briefings 
Medical notes 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Thursday, 23 December, 1999, 12:21 GMT
Fill the wards with drunken folly
Many crashes are drink related over the Christmas period
Alcohol is the number one Christmas health hazard, say accident and emergency doctors.

And even they don't always escape.

Accident and Emergency
One A&E doctor tells of the time a colleague was suffering from a horrendous hangover.

To alleviate the symptoms, he attached his fellow professional to a drip to rehydrate him.

More often, it is members of the public who overdo it at Christmas.

Casualty departments can expect up to a 50% increase in attendances around Christmas and New Year - most of the extra consultations will be to deal with alcohol-related illness.

However, another A&E doctor, Dr Ed Walker of Dewsbury Hospital in Yorkshire, tells of the time he had to attend a man who suffered horrific injuries while preparing for the festivities.

Emergency treatment

The patient suffered a pneumothorax - a collapsed lung - after trying to inflate a balloon.

Will you be visiting A&E this Christmas?
Dr Walker says: "He managed to burst the lining of his lung and got a collapsed lung from blowing up a balloon. Just the pressure of that can do quite a bit of damage.

"It's quite an emergency - you have to put a tube into the chest wall and let the lung re-expand."

A white Christmas may not be so good for your health either. Dr Walker said the last time there was snow around December the A&E department was kept busy.

"One thing we had quite a bit of last year was people who'd been shovelling snow and they had a heart attack.

"We had three people like that - they'd just gone out to clear the drive and had a heart attack doing it."

The vast majority of Christmas injuries, however, are alcohol-related.

"It's like a usual Friday or Saturday night except more so - it lasts two weeks," says Dr Walker.

The casualties include all sorts of people, from children who have raided their parents' drinks cabinet to depressed alcoholics.


Mr Peter Driscoll, an A&E consultant at Manchester's Hope Hospital, says: "The most common types of injuries we will see will be self-induced due to the consumption of short-chain hydrocarbons - that is, people being drunk.

Breath testing is stepped up over Christmas
"People either injuring themselves in their own home, injuring other people or crashing their car."

While drinking and driving is certainly out, it is not always safe to drink and walk, he says.

"You get pedestrians who are hit by cars because they were drunk walking along the pavement and veering into the road."

Drunkenness can also hide other more serious damage.

He says people can go one or two days with serious head injuries before they arrive in casualty, because when they lose consciousness they presume it is because of the alcohol and they put any pains down to a hangover.

Some people will not get the treatment they need straight away.

Mr Driscoll says: "The worst cases involve people who have alcohol-related problems who live alone. A number of those will get severely intoxicated and won't be found.

"Last year when I was on over Christmas, we had people who were brought in having been in more or less an alcohol coma for two to three days."

He says such patients had lost bowel and bladder control, and could only be treated when neighbours called paramedics to break in.

Lonely and depressed

More people drink over Christmas
"Some people just don't have a social network, and they will stay on their own and take a lot of alcohol," he says.

Mr Andrew Cope, an A&E consultant at Peterborough General Hospital, says casualty departments will see other cases of self-inflicted harm among the lonely over Christmas.

"It's a time when a lot of people take overdoses unfortunately. There's known to be a higher incidence of overdosage over Christmas, particularly among those who are living alone," he says.

"On Christmas day we usually get the odd person who cuts themselves cutting the turkey," Mr Cope says, and occasionally a small child may choke on a toy from a cracker, but other than that the festive injuries are mostly alcohol-related.

"Alcohol-related problems are everything from gastro-intestinal bleeding and head injuries right through to unexpected pregnancies," says Mr Driscoll.

"If you want a drink, be sensible. You will enjoy the festive season much better and you won't have to spend the rest of your life dealing with the consequences."

See also:

22 Dec 98 | Health
Curing the hangover blues
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Health stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Health stories