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Don't Make Shoveling a Marathon Event

KALAMAZOO, Mich., Dec. 12, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- With winter snowfall looming, area residents will need to clear out their driveways and sidewalks. The American Heart Association warns that for most people, shoveling snow may not lead to health problems, however, the risk of a heart attack during snow shoveling increases for others.

"One of the reasons heart attacks can occur during snow shoveling is the combination of colder temperatures and physical exertion which increases the workload on the heart," said Vishal Gupta, MD, MPH, Borgess Cardiology Group, of the Borgess Heart Institute, Borgess Medical Center.  "As a result, too much strain on the heart during these conditions can cause a heart attack." 

To help make snow removal safer, consider the following tips.

  • Consult a doctor. If you have a medical condition or don't exercise on a regular basis, schedule a meeting with your doctor prior to the first anticipated snowfall. 
  • Take frequent breaks during shoveling so you don't overstress your heart.
  • Don't eat a heavy meal prior or soon after shoveling since it can place an extra load on your heart.     
  • Don't drink alcoholic beverages before or immediately after shoveling. Alcohol may increase a person's sensation of warmth and may cause them to underestimate the extra strain their body is under in the cold. 
  • Be aware of the dangers of hypothermia. Heart failure causes most deaths in hypothermia. Wear a hat and dress in layers of warm clothing, which traps air between layers forming a protective insulation.
  • Use a small shovel or consider a snow thrower. Lifting heavy snow can raise blood pressure acutely. It is safer to lift smaller amounts more times, than to lug a few huge shovelfuls of snow. When possible, simply push the snow.
  • Listen to your body. If you feel the warning signs for heart attack, stop what you're doing immediately and call 9-1-1. 

The warning signs of a heart attack include:

  • Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing or pain in the center of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
  • Pain spreading to the shoulders, neck and arms.
  • Chest discomfort with lightheadness, fainting, sweating, nausea or shortness of breath. 

For more information, call the American Heart Association at 800-968-1040 or visit www.americanheart.org.  

SOURCE American Heart Association

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