Is ‘heart attack snow’ real?

Is ‘heart attack snow’ real?

Have you ever heard of “heart attack snow?”

It’s not a myth. So before you pick up a shovel to clean the snow around your property, there are some things you should keep in mind.

If you are healthy and athletic, snow shoveling can be a good exercise. However, if you are at high risk for heart disease or have a pre-existing heart condition, snow shoveling can be dangerous unless you take some precautions.

“The heart is pumping blood through a complex branch of arteries. Smaller arteries in your legs and arms constrict in the cool weather, and this puts a strain on the heart,” says Dr. Shoeb Sitafalwalla, a cardiologist and chief medical officer at Advocate Health Care. “In addition to this, lifting a heavy amount of snow increases the heart rate and oxygen demand. This combination can be lethal in a person with pre-existing heart disease.”

Dr. Sitafalwalla recommends the following six tips for safe snow shoveling:

  1. Check with your doctor first. If you have a risk factor, consult with your physician as a safety check to make sure it’s safe for you to clear the driveway or sidewalk.
  2. Push the snow, don’t lift it. Pushing the snow is less strenuous on your heart.
  3. Use a snow blower. Even pushing a heavy snow blower can be dangerous, so be careful and take frequent breaks.
  4. Avoid a heavy meal before shoveling snow. Heavy meals have a tendency to attract more blood towards the gut and away from the heart, which is being heavily taxed during snow shoveling.
  5. Avoid drinking alcohol. Alcohol can constrict blood vessels, which creates back pressure on the heart. Drinking before snow shoveling is not safe.
  6. Make sure to stretch. You need to stretch before and after shoveling snow so you don’t strain or injure your back, especially when the snow is heavy and wet.

“If you don’t know you may be at risk for heart disease, you should pay attention to some red flags, such as chest pain, discomfort or nausea when you exert yourself, shortness of breath or severe fatigue. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should check with your physician before shoveling snow,” says Dr. Sitafalwalla.

Want to learn more about your risk of heart disease? Take a free, quick online quiz.

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  1. Article on “What you Need to Know when Shoveling Snow”
    Should definitely talk about covering your face so you don’t suck in cold air and cause a cardiac spasm.
    Years ago my heart was totally healthy (proven by a cardiac cath after my heart spasm) but I sucked in cold air and ended up getting a heart cath for a supposed heart attack.
    Periodically I see reminders for the elderly or people with heart disease to wear scarves when out I the cold. There should be warnings for people of all ages who are not used to being in the cold to wear scarves in the frigid air to prevent this from happening. The year I had this I was talking to an ER nurse who said she has seen in in young healthy people.
    In BLS, ACLS, or all the articles you read do you never heart about prinzmetal’s angina vs. cold and healthy hearts?

  2. Yet another reason to wear a mask even if no one else is around!

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About the Author

Sonja Vojcic
Sonja Vojcic

Sonja Vojcic, health enews contributor, is a marketing manager at Advocate Health Care in Downers Grove, Ill. She has several years of international public relations and marketing experience with a Master’s degree in Communications from DePaul University. In her free time, Sonja enjoys spending time with her family, travelling, and keeping up with the latest health news and fashion trends.