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Heart attack risk increases during winter storms, according to experts

Doctors want to remind people that colder temperatures and strenuous work dramatically increases the risk of a heart attack--especially if you have a pre-existing condition.
Man cleans sidewalk in winter
Posted at 2:00 AM, Jan 09, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-09 03:00:04-05

APPLETON (NBC 26) — A majority of people are waking up to snowy conditions across northeast Wisconsin, and doctors have an urgent health reminder if you plan to shovel your sidewalks or driveways.

They say people with pre-exsiting heart issues should avoid shoveling snow to avoid a heart attack!

They say healthy people should also stop shoveling right away if you start having any chest pains.

"The number of patients who have a heart attack during this kind of storm is increased drastically. It's almost by 50%, and the reason for that is that it's related to the patients who had a heart problem before increasing their risk for collapse of their vascular system they end up having a heart attack. So, for that reason we tell the people to take it very seriously," said Thedacare Chief Cardiologist Dr. Ameer Kabour.

Doctor Kabour says the colder temperatures paired with hard work drastically increased the odds of having a heart attack.

He says if you have to shovel, don't do it for long periods of time, take frequent breaks, and make sure to cover your face as much as possible to ensure you're breathing in the warmest possible air.

"Snow shoveling is a physically demanding task, and it places a significant strain on the cardiovascular system, especially for those who are not accustomed to strenuous physical activity,” said Ameer Kabour, M.D., cardiologist and Senior Medical Director of Cardiovascular Services with ThedaCare Cardiovascular Care. “Cold weather constricts blood vessels, which can increase blood pressure and the risk of blood clots, making snow shoveling even riskier."

Preventing Snow Shoveling-Related Deaths

Dr. Kabour added these deaths are largely preventable, often occurring in individuals with preexisting heart conditions or those who are physically inactive.

The good news is that there are several steps you can take to help prevent snow shoveling-related deaths. Here are some guidelines to help protect your heart:

· Consult with Your Doctor: Before winter begins, you should have a conversation with your health care provider, especially if you have a history of heart disease or other cardiovascular risk factors. Your doctor can assess your readiness for the physical exertion of snow shoveling and provide personalized guidance.

· Warm-Up: Just as you would before any exercise, warm up your muscles and stretch. A few minutes of light exercise or stretching can prepare your body for the physical demands of shoveling.

· Dress for the Weather: Layer your clothing to stay warm and protect yourself from the cold. Wearing a hat, gloves, and a scarf can help prevent heat loss through your head and extremities.

· Choose the Right Shovel: Select a lightweight, ergonomic snow shovel with a curved handle. This design minimizes the amount of bending and lifting you need to do, reducing strain on your heart.

· Push, Don't Lift: Whenever possible, push the snow rather than lifting it. This reduces the strain on your heart, as pushing is less physically demanding.

· Take Frequent Breaks: Avoid the temptation to clear every inch of snow in one go. Overexertion is a significant risk factor for heart-related issues. Take regular breaks to rest and recover during your snow removal efforts.

· Stay Hydrated: Cold weather can be deceptive, and you may not realize how much you're sweating. Be sure to drink water to stay properly hydrated during your snow-clearing efforts.

· Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to any warning signs from your body, such as chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, or lightheadedness. If you experience any of these symptoms, stop shoveling immediately and seek medical attention.

· Enlist Help: Consider enlisting the help of a neighbor, friend, or family member, or hire a professional snow removal service if you have heart health concerns or are physically unable to do the task safely.

Post-Shoveling Heart Health

Your heart health isn't just at risk while you're shoveling snow; it's also important to nurture it afterward. Here are some recommendations to help in recovery:

· Rest and Recover: After shoveling, give your body time to recover. Sit down, relax, and warm up gradually to avoid sudden temperature changes. Stay warm and dry after shoveling to maintain your body temperature.

· Monitor for Symptoms: Be vigilant for any delayed symptoms of heart issues that might occur after shoveling, such as chest discomfort, shortness of breath, or excessive fatigue.

· Healthy Diet and Exercise: Maintaining a heart-healthy lifestyle year-round can reduce the risks associated with strenuous activities like snow shoveling. Eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, and manage stress to keep your heart in good shape.

“By taking precautions, consulting your doctor, and using proper shoveling techniques, you can help minimize these risks and stay safe during the winter months,” said Dr. Kabour. "Your heart health should always be a priority, and taking the necessary steps to protect it while shoveling snow is a key part of overall well-being.”