Holiday Central

Beware: Holidays may be hazardous to your health

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Ah, the holidays.

Time to admire the lavish Christmas decorations, rip open the presents and wolf down a home-cooked feast of prime rib served with a mountain of mashed potatoes. Then there's bringing in the new year with a bottle—or two, or three—of Champagne.

But all that merriment can end up not being so much fun. For thousands of people, it turns into a trip to the emergency room with health-care professionals who would rather be home with their loved ones.

According to data compiled by Carrington College, putting up tinsel and Christmas tree lights is downright dangerous. Some 5,800 people a year in the U.S. are treated in hospital ERs for injuries resulting from taking a fall while decorating. Forty-three percent of those falls are from a ladder.

And those artfully trimmed trees always carry the threat of fire.

Between 2006 and 2010, fire departments responded to an average of 230 home fires annually that started on or near a Christmas tree, according to the National Fire Protection Association. A heat source too close to the tree started one-fifth of those fires.

Nineteen percent of home Christmas tree fires were set intentionally; nearly three-fourths of those occurred in the 15 days after Christmas and may have been related to tree disposal.

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An average of one in every 66 reported fires that began with a Christmas tree results in a death. The fires cause an average of four deaths, 21 injuries and $17.3 million in direct property damage every year.

As for holiday goodies, Americans gain an average of about 1 pound between Thanksgiving and Christmas every year.

And much of those extra pounds come from fatty foods (another handful of butter cookies? more gravy on those potatoes?), which can further stress a weakened heart.

There are about 745,000 deaths from heart attacks each year, with cardiac deaths rising by 5 percent during the holiday season. In fact, more heart attacks occur on Dec. 25 than on any other day, with Dec. 26 and Jan. 1 showing the second- and third-highest numbers, respectively.

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Doctors some digestive symptoms can mimic those of a heart attack, doctors urge people to be safe rather than sorry and have their condition checked out.

Care givers rather be at home

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Whether you go to a doctor's office, a clinic or an emergency room, you're likely to encounter health-care providers who'd rather be at home celebrating—like you were.

Twenty-eight percent of U.S. health-care professionals must work Thanksgiving and Christmas, versus 17 percent of all other workers, according to Carrington College. Thirty-one percent of health-care workers said they are stressed by not being able to take the day off.

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Travelers have special health warnings. More than 206 million Americans will be flying during the holidays, and doctors point out that prolonged sitting can lead to the development of blood clots in the lower legs that can cause serious heart and vascular problems.

The dangers of drinking and driving seem particularly acute this time of year. An average of 45 fatalities involving an alcohol-impaired driver occur each day in the U.S. during the Christmas period, and the number soars to 54 a day over the New Year's holiday, according to the National Transportation and Safety Board.

How can you enjoy the holiday season safely and healthfully? Here are some common tips:

  1. Safely secure your ladder before getting on it, and follow the climbing guidelines.
  2. Make sure your tree has the proper electrical wiring, unplug it when not in use and keep it clear of heat sources.
  3. Turn down extra helpings of food and drink, and get plenty of rest.
  4. If you're on a plane, get up and walk around, do in-place exercises and, if possible, elevate your feet. Stop regularly to stretch your legs if you're doing any long-distance driving.
  5. Never drink and drive, and designate a nondrinker to take the wheel.
  6. If you feel you need to see a health-care professional, don't wait.

Oh, and if you do have to go to an ER, let those on the job there know how much you appreciate their working over the holidays.

—By CNBC's Mark Koba. Follow him on Twitter@MarkKobaCNBC