Shoveling snow is strenuous. It’s even more demanding when you’re dealing with heavy, wet snow while navigating layers of ice. A burst of over-exertion in freezing air could be a recipe for an angina event or heart attack–especially for those who are out of shape.
Sudden surges of activity, even with a power shovel, can increase blood pressure, release adrenaline-like hormones and strain under-used muscles. Coronary arteries may tighten, which adds demands on the heart. But the heart might be unable to handle that additional workload.
Stories of people who die suddenly while shoveling snow are not uncommon. A massive heart attack recently claimed John Henson at 48, for instance. I have witnessed similar situations several times this winter, even with young and middle-aged patients. For many, their first cardiac arrest is their last.
Ask Your Doctor About Shoveling Snow
Call your doctor if you have coronary artery disease or heart disease risk factors. Ask whether the physical strain of clearing yet another layer of the white stuff may be too much. Certain patients be able to shovel some snow, while others may be absolutely restricted from it, depending on their health history.
When more snow comes, practice caution–especially with heart disease risk factors such as:
- a heart disease diagnosis or a personal history of heart attack;
- an immediate family member with a premature heart attack;
- cigarette smoking;
- unhealthy blood sugar levels or diabetes;
- high cholesterol; and/or
Finally, seek out your doctor if you have symptoms like (but not limited to) chest pain on exertion, shortness of breath with activity, blood pressure disturbances or physical limitations.