Hospitals see increase in head and back injuries from falls

Serious head and back injuries kept hospital emergency departments busy Thursday as more people ventured outdoors, only to fall on the ice.

Physicians were also treating asthma attacks brought on by the cold and warning those with heart disease to avoid overexertion in the freezing weather.

For the elderly, head injuries caused by slipping on the ice pose an especially high risk, said Dr. Yama Amin, emergency department physician at Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital.

"Were seeing a lot of head injuries from falls, definitely more than usual," he said. "For someone who is 80 and on blood thinners, it can be very catastrophic."

As people age, their brain shrinks, making even a minor head injury very dangerous.

"We're seeing concussions from people hitting their heads hard enough to actually bleed," said Dr. David Smith, medical director of the trauma program at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth. "It can be life-threatening if we can't control the bleeding."

Though hospitals did not see a spike in weather-related heart attacks, physicians were warning people with coronary artery disease to be cautious.

"For individuals with angina or coronary artery disease, increased physical activity is a risk factor for a heart attack," said Dr. Timothy Jones, emergency department physician for Baylor All Saints Medical Center in Fort Worth. "We don't see it so much here because we don't get a lot of big snows. But it's something to be aware of."

Studies have shown that cold weather can raise the risk of heart attack. Each reduction of 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit in a day is associated with 200 additional heart attacks, according to a December report published online in the British Medical Journal.

Another big concern when it is icy is hip and pelvic fractures, which are especially dangerous for the elderly, Jones said. Such injuries can lead to immobility, which puts someone at risk of pneumonia, other complications and even death, he said.

Diabetics should be especially cautious outdoors because they often have nerve damage and circulatory problems.

Numbness in their feet can throw their balance off, Amin said.

Asthma attacks have also driven more patients of all ages to hospitals.

"Cold weather is a known trigger for asthma," Jones said.

Jan Jarvis,