To Your Health: Winter weather can strain your heart
BY THE AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION January 21, 2014 11:56AM
Medical professionals recommend pushing snow rather than lifting it when possible to reduce the strain on your heart. | File photo
Updated: February 23, 2014 6:08AM
With the snow and cold hitting the Chicago area, the American Heart Association is sharing some winter-weather tips to take care of your heart.
The winter months can be very hard on people with potential or existing heart problems. Some studies even suggest that harsh winter weather may increase a person’s risk of heart attack due to overexertion.
This winter, while you’re outdoors in the cold weather, be aware that your heart is working harder. If you’re not accustomed to physical activity, you should avoid sudden exertion, like lifting a heavy shovel full of snow. Even walking through heavy, wet snow or snow drifts can strain a person’s heart.
To help make snow removal safer, the American Heart Association suggests:
Give yourself a break. Take frequent rest breaks during shoveling so you don’t overstress your heart. Pay attention to how your body feels during those breaks.
Don’t eat a heavy meal prior to or soon after shoveling. Eating a large meal can put an extra load on your heart.
Use a small shovel or consider a snow thrower. The act of lifting heavy snow can raise blood pressure acutely during the lift. It is safer to lift smaller amounts more times than to lug a few huge shovelfuls of snow. When possible, simply push the snow.
Learn the heart attack warning signs and listen to your body, but remember this: Even if you’re not sure it’s a heart attack, tell a doctor about your symptoms. And minutes matter! Fast action can save lives — maybe your own. Don’t wait more than five minutes to call 911.
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.
Consult a doctor. If you have a medical condition, don’t exercise on a regular basis or are middle-aged or older, meet with your doctor.
Be aware of the dangers of hypothermia. Heart failure causes most deaths in hypothermia. To prevent hypothermia, dress in layers of warm clothing, which traps air between layers, forming a protective insulation. Wear a hat because much of your body’s heat can be lost through your head.
Besides cold temperatures and snow, Chicagoans also have high winds to endure. Wind is especially dangerous because it removes the layer of heated air from around your body. At 30 degrees in a 30-mph wind, the cooling effect is equal to 15 degrees.
To keep warm, wear layers of clothing. This traps air between layers, forming a protective insulation. Also, wear a hat or head scarf. Heat can be lost through your head. And ears are especially prone to frostbite. Keep your hands and feet warm, too, as they tend to lose heat rapidly.
Heart attack warning signs
Some heart attacks are sudden and intense — the “movie heart attack,” where no one doubts what’s happening. But most heart attacks start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Often people affected aren’t sure what’s wrong and wait too long before getting help. Here are signs that can mean a heart attack is happening:
Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
Other signs may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain.
Calling 911 is almost always the fastest way to get lifesaving treatment. Emergency medical services (EMS) staff can begin treatment when they arrive — up to an hour sooner than if someone gets to the hospital by car. EMS staff are also trained to revive someone whose heart has stopped. Patients with chest pain who arrive by ambulance usually receive faster treatment at the hospital, too. It is best to call EMS for rapid transport to the emergency room. If you can’t access EMS, have someone drive you to the hospital right away.
For more information, visit your physician or call the American Heart Association at (800) 242-8721 or visit www.heart.org.