Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Snowmageddon Storm Warning: Protect Your Heart!

Freezing cold temperatures and a blanket of heavy wet snow often make me want to turn into a modern day Paul Revere. He rode a horse, waved a lantern and shouted, "The British are Coming." I'm using my computer to issue my warning in print: "Beware of your snow shovel - your health may be at risk!"


The East coast of the United States is predicted to experience a storm “like never before.” Even while writing this Monday afternoon, I see on Instagram that snow had begun to fall in NYC.  The predicted forecast for Tuesday, January 27th, 2015 across the northeastern US is an “epic” snowstorm.  Weather reports are all conveying a sense of urgency.  Listing to snippets of different weather reports, I kept hearing phrases like, “Prepare for something worse than we have seen before.  Epic proportions. Heavy snow. Huge winds. Blizzard.”

People are being cautioned to stock up on supplies,and to “be somewhere you want to be for several days” in case of being snowed in.  Businesses are being encouraged to close, so people don't feel they must go out in the storm to get to work.  People are advised to plan what they will do if their power (and heat) goes off.

One warning I have not heard enough: Be careful when shoveling snow

Snow shoveling can be a risky activity.  

In addition to straining the muscles of arms and legs, possibly having an asthma attack, and the danger of frostbite, the snow shoveler's heart is potentially in grave danger.

I hope you will take a minute to read this article I wrote about a year ago, which explains why snow shoveling is risky, symptoms to be aware of, and what to do if you suspect someone is having a heart attack.

Whether you are experiencing the “storm of the century” or any winter storm, the life you could save with this knowledge might even be your own!

Snow Shoveling: Can it Cause a Heart Attack!

This post was previously published on a website that no longer exists. It seems like advice well worth sharing again. Be safe - and be smart!
My Experience as a Registered Nurse on Snowy Days
I was employed as a cardiac-care nurse for quite a few years in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Almost every extremely cold, snowy day would begin with one of my co-workers stating, “Well, business could be booming today.” While meant to lighten our mood, this joking comment was potentially true and based on fact. I remember admitting numerous middle-aged and elderly patients to our unit on such wintry days, after they experienced chest pains or a full-blown heart attack while clearing snow from their sidewalks or driveway.
Why Shoveling Snow Can Lead To A Heart Attack:  Shoveling snow can trigger a heart attack for several reasons. Obviously, not everyone who shovels snow will have a heart attack. A combination of risk factors can set up some users of snow shovels or heavy snow blowers for a trip to the emergency room.

A body's response to cold may increase heart attack risk:  According to Mayo Clinic emeritus hypertension specialist Sheldon G. Sheps, M.D., “low temperatures cause your blood vessels to narrow - which increases blood pressure because more pressure is needed to force blood through your narrowed veins and arteries.” In his blog post on February 8, 2013, Patrick J. Skerrett, Executive Editor, Harvard Health, pointed out that cold weather “can boost blood pressure, interrupt blood flow to part of the heart, and make blood more likely to form clots.” These responses of the blood and blood vessels could create “the perfect storm” for the occurrence of a heart attack.

A warning to smokers:  When you are smoking, your heart rate increases and your blood vessels constrict or become narrower - which causes your heart to have to work harder. The dangers of smoking are well known, but those effects combined with cold weather could quickly become lethal!

Strenuous exercise like shoveling snow can be bad for the heart:  In addition to the above-mentioned physiological changes due to cold weather, the actual exercise of shoveling can be another huge factor for heart attack risk. Snow shoveling is hard physical labor - especially if the snow is heavy. Many people who engage in the task of shoveling snow are not very physically fit. A sedentary person suddenly forcing his body to perform such a strenuous activity is asking a lot of all of his muscles, including his heart.

Stressful situations can be risky for the heart:  Sometimes people are in a rush to get the snow cleared, frustrated by the weather's impact on their schedule, or worried about having to drive on hazardous roads. Any such scenario can increase a person's stress level and add to the risk of a cardiac event.

In addition to contributing to the risk factor of developing coronary artery (heart) disease over time, the affect of stress on the heart can also be immediate. An article published by Penn State Hershey, Milton S. Hershey Medical Center points out that sudden stress can cause blood pressure to rise and can also possibly cause serious heart rhythm abnormalities in some people. Again, this sets up a potential condition for a heart attack to occur.

How To Shovel Snow In A Way That Is Kind To Your Heart:  The National Safety Council provides an excellent list of tips for safe snow shoveling. Some of their suggestions include:
  • not shoveling after a meal or smoking
  • warm up your muscles and pace yourself
  • don't pick up too much snow at a time
  • never work to the point of exhaustion
  • dress warmly
If you have known heart disease - ask someone else to shovel for you!

Warning signs of a Heart Attack  
According to the American Heart Association, the warning signs of a heart attack include, but are not limited to:
  • 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 becoming lightheaded.
Stop shoveling immediately if you experience any of these symptoms!
What to do if you suspect a heart attack:
  • Every minute counts!
  • Call 911 or your local emergency center.
  • Do not drive yourself to the hospital, as you could loose consciousness.
  • A false alarm is far better than suffering the devastating effects of a heart attack left untreated. Don't let doubts interfere with getting the immediate medical attention a heart attack victim requires.
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/blood-pressure/AN01786 - Mayo Clinic website: "Expert Answer. Blood pressure: Is it affected by cold weather?" by emeritus hypertension specialist Sheldon G. Sheps, M.D.
http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/shoveling-snow-can-be-hard-on-the-heart-201302085868 - Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical School. Snow Shoveling Can be Hard on the Heart by Patrick J. Skerrett, Executive Editor, Harvard Health
http://www.tobaccofreekids.org/research/factsheets/pdf/0264.pdf - Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids: Smoking's Immediate Effects on the Body
http://pennstatehershey.adam.com/content.aspx?productId=10&pid=10&gid=000031 - Penn State Hershey, Milton S Hershey Medical Center, Health Information Library: "Stress"
http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/WarningSignsofaHeartAttack/Warning-Signs-of-a-Heart-Attack_UCM_002039_Article.jsp - American Heart Association website: "Warning Signs of a Heart Attack"
http://www.nsc.org/news_resources/Resources/Documents/Snow_Shoveling.pdf - National Safety Council, Safe Snow Shoveling Document 

So, just like Paul Revere - please help me spread this warning! Sharing this information with your friends and family could potentially be lifesaving.

Strangely enough, in Montana right now, it is 56 degrees F. and sunny; no snow is even in our forecast until Saturday.  It's pretty certain that snowy weather and cold temperatures will return here before long.  In the meantime - I hope all our our Eastern neighbors are safe and warm!


Pay It Forward Update:
“Snowmageddon” necessitated a change in my usual posting schedule! 

Today is the day I promised I would announce the winners of my “Pay It Forward” drawing. Since this post is so long, I will publish their names and information about their blogs in an extra post today. You can visit it after 12 noon EST today (1-27-15) by clicking here

This post may be linked to one of the great link-up parties I follow and list on my blog. Check them out!


  1. i gave hubby the talk to be careful - thankfully we have a snow blower but there's areas he also needs to shovel. TY

    1. Glad you warned him Marisa - even when using a snow blower, there is some risk if temperatures are really cold! It's always good to be aware of and watch for any cardiac symptoms.

  2. We were just talking with my son about this the other day. I grew up in a snowy area and the men spent a lot of time shoveling in the winter. That's very hard exercise! If we still lived there we would probably get snowblower.

    1. We don't have a snowblower - but I do have a 17 year old boy :)

  3. Well timed words of caution from someone who knows.
    We used to shovel our driveway, now we have a snow blower. I think it makes so much more sense as you age (and your kids leave the nest).

    1. Yes - it was really nice when our son took over shoveling duties... I don't even want to think about when he leaves for college - for many reasons!

  4. Excellent advice. I do hope that the weather reports are exaggerated.

    1. I know - I decided if the weather people could broadcast the storm with a lot of hype, it was fair for me to try and spread this warning as well!

  5. Being that I live in sunny California where it never really snows, I never even thought of snow shoveling as a possible cause for a heart attack. Reading your post definitely educated me on this matter. While sometimes I wish that I had a snow day here and there, I'm really glad that I don't have to shovel snow, worry about snow storms and blizzards and all of that. I've been thinking about everyone who is in the parts where it's supposed to hit hard, hoping that everyone is safe and stays warm.

    Thanks for this post!

    1. We get snow here - but no snow days! Many Montanans are lamenting the fact that snow if falling in the East, when it is currently melting off our mountains. It is unseasonably mild here right now!

  6. Some sensible advice here. We went one better....hired a crew to look after our snow lol.

  7. Thanks for sharing this information Susan - I honestly have often wondered why snow shoveling could be so dangerous. Not really a problem for us here, as we rarely get enough snow to shovel!

    1. Glad you could learn something from this Lana. I remember the photo you posted when it did snow though - you had quite a bit then!

  8. That is one of the main reasons that we moved to SC! It has only snowed here once in the three years we have lived here. The only part of the storm we got was a cool rain and 54 degrees. I am not complaining one bit!

    1. Glad to hear you escaped the recent storm conditions - and the snowy winters!

  9. Good information. Thanks for sharing. I definitely need to watch out. I love to shovel but I am aware that I need to take it easy.

    1. You love to shovel? Actually, unless it is really heavy snow, I don't really mind it either ... especially when I'm out there and it is still coming down! It's funny how warm you can get shoveling, when temperatures are freezing - but that is actually a good indication of the degree of exertion it takes. Be careful, Lynn!

  10. This makes me even glad-er that Husby bought that snow-blower. Of course now, there's no snow. But this is Edmonton. Anything could happen . . .

    1. We have been unseasonably warm as well - but temperatures are back down to below freezing today. Hillsides just have patches of snow right now though.

  11. This is excellent advice! Thanks so much for linking up to Awesome Life Friday! We'll be pinning this - we're looking forward to seeing what you have to share this week!


If you enjoyed this post, I would love it if you share it on your social media sites and with your friends!