For the 2017 Super Bowl, it may be more important to watch what you eat than to watch the actual game. A study conducted by a University of Florida researcher showed that overeating during holidays or national sporting events is 10 times more likely to lead to food obstruction that needs medical attention.
Dr. Asim Shuja, a gastroenterologist at UF Health Jacksonville, and his research team tracked patients from the St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center’s emergency room in Boston between 2001 and 2012. During the 11-year period, 38 people came into the emergency room to have an emergency procedure on the esophagus during or just after a holiday or sporting event. Of these, almost 37% of those had food obstruction, or esophageal food impaction.
Alternatively, of the 81 people who came in for the same procedure two weeks before or after the holiday or sporting event (during the “control period”), less than 4% had food obstruction.
Holidays and sporting events that were studied included Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day, the last day of the World Series and the Superbowl.
“Patients were more likely to present with food impaction on these holidays as compared with other days,” Shuja said.
Shuja said he became interested in the connection when he noticed that more patients coming into the ER “complaining of something stuck in their throat, or they have difficulty swallowing after eating something, or they were having some discomfort in the chest.”
Esophageal food impaction from overeating was more likely in men, and appeared to occur more with younger individuals, the study said. It is more commonly seen in patients who have preexisting conditions such as acid reflux, cancer or a history of food obstruction. Over the past ten years, food obstruction has steadily increased, impacting younger people.
According to Dr. Gabu Bhardwaj, a gastroenterologist at Digestive Disease Associates, when esophageal food impaction happens, the patient cannot swallow anything, even his or her own saliva. Even worse, the food can travel into the patient’s lungs, causing aspiration.
The solution for esophageal food impaction is a non-invasive procedure called an endoscopy.
“We try to remove the food that is stuck there by gently pushing it down the esophagus or we will just remove it manually [through the mouth],” Bhardwaj said.
The type of food can also be a factor in food obstruction.
“People just have to careful about especially eating the solid foods, especially eating the meat because that’s the number one culprit,” Bhardwaj said.
The most common food that caused food obstruction during holidays and sporting events was turkey (50%), followed by chicken (29%) and beef (21%), according to the study.
Alcohol can be another risk factor for esophageal food impaction.
“If someone is intoxicated… they’re not really swallowing and controlling their secretions well, so they start to choke because of their confusion,” said Dr. Khormika Keo, a gastroenterologist at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center and member of the research team that conducted the study.
Food obstruction is a very avoidable problem, and there are multiple ways to prevent it.
“Just try to be conscientious when you eat your food, to chew it well before you swallow. Try to take small portions when you grab from the buffet, and bring it on your plate when you’re watching the game,” Keo said.