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Winter Weather and Your Heart What You Need to Know about Snow

Monday, Mar 13, 2017
Winter Snow Shoveling and Heart Health

It's important to know how winter weather can affect your heart, especially if you have cardiovascular disease. Read on for winter weather tips for cardiac patients.

"It can be a real workout and something people with heart disease should take seriously," says Eric Gejer, DO, Doylestown Hospital cardiologist.

"One thing I always tell my patients is that shoveling snow is a lot more exertion than people realize. There are real dangers in shoveling if people are not careful," says Dr. Gejer. "I often equate it to my patients as digging a large ditch in their backyard in the summer. It can be a lot more labor intensive than people are often prepared for."

According to Dr. Gejer, people should know their limits. They need to listen to what their bodies are telling them and stop if they are overdoing it. He suggests individuals should have an understanding of their cardiac risks from their doctor before engaging in shoveling or any other exercise program.

Flinging big, heavy shovels full of snow around when you're not used to that kind of sudden exertion can be dangerous and should be avoided. Also take it easy when walking through heavy, deep snow to avoid straining the heart. There is another kind of danger brought on by winter weather.

Many winter sports can cause additional stress on the body, especially if you're not used to spending time outside in the cold weather. People need to be aware of accidental hypothermia.

This dangerous condition happens when a person's body temperature dips below 95 degrees. Hypothermia means the body can no longer keep its core temperature warm enough to keep its organs functioning properly. It can be deadly, with heart failure causing the majority of hypothermia deaths. Watch out for symptoms such as confusion, shivering, sleepiness, loss of physical coordination and sluggish reactions.

These risks especially affect children, the elderly and people with heart disease.

"As we get older our sensitivity to feeling the cold is diminished, however the effects of the cold and risks remain," explains Dr. Gejer. "Hypothermia is dangerous especially to cardiac patients."

As always, patients should ask their doctor if they have any questions or concerns about what their individual cardiac risk is in any type of weather.

Tips for Safer Snow Removal

  • Take frequent breaks. Stop when your body tells you you're pushing too hard.
  • Don't eat a big meal before or right after shoveling. All that food can put extra burden on your heart.
  • Try using a smaller shovel, or think about buying a snow blower. Heavy lifting raises blood pressure. A smaller shovel means a lighter load. Try pushing the snow if possible.
  • Know the signs of heart attack and listen to your body. When in doubt, check it out. Don't wait more than five minutes to call 9-1-1.
  • Avoid alcohol before or right after shoveling. Alcohol can make you feel warm even when you're cold, and can cause you not to realize when you're straining too much.
  • Talk to your doctor. Before you start exercising in the cold outdoors, check with your doctor especially if you have a medical condition, are sedentary or middle aged or older.
  • Know the risks of hypothermia. Dress warmly in layers of clothing, and always wear a hat to prevent losing body heat.

Source: American Heart Association

About Doylestown Health's Heart Institute

Expert cardiologists and cardiac surgeons assist patients and physicians with managing risk factors for heart disease, offer advanced treatment options and provide outstanding emergency cardiac care. The multidisciplinary team at the Heart Institute is dedicated to providing the highest level of quality care and patient safety.

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