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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Snow shoveling and heart attacks - Is shoveling really dangerous to the heart????

Here is Fairfield County, CT, we are still digging out from The Blizzard of 2010 just like the rest of the TriState Area and New England.
I spent the blizzard on-call covering our local hospital for Interventional Cardiology - that means I was the "heart attack" expert on-call.
Monday morning, not one but two middle aged men can in with large heart attacks that began when the went outside to try and shovel snow.
What makes shoveling more dangerous than other average tasks around the house is the temperature. Your heart rate and blood pressure increase during strenuous activity. That, coupled with the body's natural reflex to constrict arteries and blood vessels when exposed to the cold, is a recipe for a heart attack. Research has also shown that many people hold their breath while shoveling, which can lead to a sudden change in hear rate.
Snow shoveling in itself can be done safely by individuals in good shape, but can be very dangerous for those individuals who lead a most sedentary lifesytle. Unfortunately, many individuals do not have a choice - they must get out and clear the driveway. In these individuals, the body is not prepared to deal with going from 0 to 100 (the couch to the driveway) in the above mentioned conditions. This places individuals at a uniquely highrisk.
My recommendations:
  • Certain individuals should consult their doctor before shoveling snow:
    • People who have previously had a heart attack or other cardiovascular disease.
    • People with a history of chest pain or angina.
    • People with medical histories of high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol levels.
    • People who smoke or who have other cardiovascular risk factors.
    • People who do not exercise regularly.
    Please be careful

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