Heavy snow, cold temperatures can be dangerous to your heart health

December 23, 2008

Winter is here, and as beautiful as the season can be, the snow and cold can have an adverse effect on your heart health.

Local hospitals see an increase in the number of heart attack cases at this time of year, a direct result of the weather on individuals who don’t realize they are at risk, said cardiologist Richard Pomerantz, M.D., chief of Clinical Cardiology at the University of Rochester Medical Center. The danger is the impact cold temperatures can have on the blood vessels, which becomes smaller as temperatures drop. When coupled with physical activity, particularly shoveling heavy snow, this can increase the risk of clotting and heart attack.

“We see a number of patients per week in late November and throughout December who have been outside shoveling a foot of snow from their driveway,” Pomerantz said. “For many of them, they don’t exercise regularly or at all, and the rather extreme exertion as they shovel out in the cold can be enough to cause a heart attack.”

Some tips:

  • Know your risk factors. Heart disease can be hereditary, and the risk increases in people who are older, have high blood pressure, smoke, are overweight, or don’t exercise.
  • If you are planning to shovel or spend time out in the cold and are aware you may have risk factors, see your physician for a physical before picking up a snow shovel or ask someone else to shovel for you, such as a young neighbor. Dress warmly and use a scarf or muffler to warm the air if it is very cold.
  • If you are shoveling, take frequent breaks and don’t overdo it.
  • Know that post-menopausal women are as susceptible as men to heart attacks.
  • Know the symptoms of a heart attack, which include shortness of breath, sweating, nausea, and chest pain. If you experience any of these, call 911 immediately.
  • If you suspect a heart attack, do not wait to go to the hospital, Pomerantz strongly advised. Often patients come in the next day and, by that time, heart muscle has already been damaged. He also stressed not driving to the hospital yourself or having a family member drive. “We see many patients who jump in the car and think they can get to the emergency department faster than an ambulance,” he said. “But you may need medical assistance on the way to the hospital. The best advice is to call an ambulance immediately and let the professionals take care of you.”

For Media Inquiries:
Karin Christensen
(585) 275-1311
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