A winter wonderland can turn deadly with heart attacks brought on by snow shoveling

 As pretty as new-fallen snow appears, shoveling sidewalks and driveways can be deadly. According to the American Heart Association, the world’s leading nonprofit organization focused on heart and brain health for all, many people may face an increased risk of a heart attack or sudden cardiac arrest after shoveling heavy snow.

The heart-health hazards of snow shoveling were specifically called out in the Association’s 2020 updated scientific statement, Exercise-Related Acute Cardiovascular Events and Potential Deleterious Adaptations Following Long-Term Exercise Training: Placing the Risks Into Perspective–An Update, and numerous scientific research studies over the years have identified the dangers of shoveling snow for people with and without previously known heart disease.

American Heart Association volunteer expert, Francis D Ferdinand, MD, Director of Cardiac Surgery at the Heart and Vascular Institute at UPMC Hamot and Professor of Cardiothoracic Surgery in the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, said that shoveling snow can potentially be the perfect storm for heart attacks due to the physiologic changes that take place in the body while exerting energy during cold weather.

“Shoveling snow is a very strenuous activity, made even more so by the impact that cold temperatures have on your body, increasing the blood pressure while simultaneously constricting the coronary arteries. The usual recommendation to consult with your physician before starting an exercise program applies to shoveling snow.”

The impact of snow removal is especially concerning for people who already have cardiovascular risks like a sedentary lifestyle or obesity, being a current or former smoker, having diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure, as well as people who have had a heart attack or stroke.

“The most important thing is to be aware of the dangers, be prepared and take it easy, including taking short breaks,” Dr Ferdinand said.

Know the common signs of heart trouble and if you experience chest pain or pressure, lightheadedness or heart palpitations or irregular heart rhythms stop the activity immediately. Call 9-1-1 if symptoms don’t subside shortly after snow removal.

Learn more about cold weather and cardiovascular disease here.