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Wednesday
Dec292010

Snow Shoveling May Put Hearts at Risk

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- As Americans living on the Eastern seaboard break out the snow shovels, doctors are telling them to take special care, and have "great respect" for the dangers of blizzard conditions, both during and after the storm.

Doctors say slips and falls are the most common injuries caused by snow and ice seen in the ER, but they also warn of heart dangers that may come with a snowfall.

"The risk of heart attack is increased by the combination of heavy, upper body exertion and cold weather encountered while shoveling snow," said Dr. William Abraham, director of the division of cardiovascular medicine at Ohio State University.  "People, especially those at risk for coronary heart disease, should avoid heavy exertion in cold weather conditions."

There are two major points that can put people at risk for heart problems when it's cold.

"For one, most people don't realize that, when their hands get cold, it causes blood vessels in the heart to constrict and reduce the blood supply to their heart," said Dr. Randy Zusman, director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Heart Center.

So, if a blood vessel is 20 percent to 30 percent blocked, it can become up to 70 percent to 80 percent blocked due to the constricting walls in the cold weather conditions, said Zusman.

And once the shovel comes out of the garage, things can often get much worse.

"Lifting heavy snow is like heavy weight lifting," said Zusman.  "It puts a strain on the heart, and the blood pressure and heart rate go up in response to it."

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