As a parent, you have a pretty good idea when a family member has an injury or illness that’s more than you can tackle with an over-the-counter medication and a hug. While the holiday season is a festive time, it’s no fun if you or someone you love isn’t feeling well or whose illness gets progressively worse, plus accidents and emergencies always seem to happen when you least expect them. That’s when the hospital emergency department (ED) can be the best place to care for a medical emergency. But how do you know if your family’s illness or accident warrants the services of an ED?

Ketan Trivedi, MD, medical director of the ED and on the medical staff at Methodist Mansfield Medical Center recommends calling 911 or coming into the ED for a range of potentially serious conditions.

“Seek immediate medical attention if you have difficulty breathing; have significant changes in behavior, such as being confused, delirious, or excessively sleepy; are becoming increasingly less responsive or alert; or have been in an accident,” Trivedi said. “A severe headache or vomiting, especially after a head injury; a fever of 103 degrees or higher; fracture; uncontrolled bleeding; weakness or numbness on one side; choking; ingestion of poisons or obstructive objects; seizures; severe allergic reactions; serious burns; severe puncture wounds; and animal or human bites are also conditions you should take seriously.”

The holidays can also have a negative effect on the heart. Research shows that the risk of having a heart attack goes up during the winter holidays and heart-related deaths are highest around Christmas and New Year’s Day. According to the American College of Emergency Physicians possible causes for this dangerous seasonal surge in heart problems include:

•Eating too many rich or salty foods

•Forgetting to take daily medications

•Waiting too long to seek medical help for potential heart trouble out of concern that it may disrupt holiday plans

If you or a loved one thinks they are having a heart attack or stroke, act fast and always call 911. Don’t drive to the hospital as this may endanger you or others around you and delay necessary medical care Trivedi explains. A sudden inability to speak, weakness to the face, arms, and legs, or a severe headache may be signs of a stroke, while chest pain that may radiate to the arms, neck or jaw associated with shortness of breath, nausea, sweating or dizziness may indicate a heart attack. If you or a loved one has any of these symptoms that suggest a possibility of a stroke or a heart attack, don’t delay, call 911 immediately and seek medical help.

“When it comes to a stroke or heart attack time is of the essence. It’s best to find out for certain if these symptoms are indicating a heart attack or stroke. That way, you’re more likely to be around to enjoy next year’s holiday season,” Trivedi urges.

EDs are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Patients are treated based on severity of injury or illness rather than their time of arrival, and the physicians, paramedics, nurses, and other support staff are specially trained to diagnose and treat a range of medical issues.

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Texas law prohibits hospitals from practicing medicine. The physicians on the Methodist Health System medical staff are independent practitioners who are not employees or agents of Methodist Health System or Methodist Mansfield Medical Center.