The snow is piling up so you bundle up and head out to shovel. Just as you tug on a scarf, gloves and warm coat to protect your body, you can follow a few easy steps to protect your heart in this cold weather.
"Hospitalizations for heart attacks and heart failure tend to be more common and severe during the winter months, with a peak during the Christmas and New Year's holidays," notes Ryan Broderick, MD, a cardiologist with Brigham and Women's Cardiovascular Associates of Care New England at Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island.
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Some reasons for this additional strain on the heart could be:
- Lower temperatures during the winter cause the blood vessels to constrict, which increases blood pressure.
- Emotional stress caused by increased financial burdens and family commitments during the season.
- Shortened daylight hours create a hormonal imbalance that lowers the threshold for heart attack, especially in the morning.
- Overindulgence in foods containing salt and fat, as well as alcohol, cause fluid retention and high blood pressure.
- Increased frequency of respiratory problems such as pneumonia and influenza during the winter months
- Extreme levels of physical activity like snow shoveling, particularly in people who are not used to high levels of exercise
It's common to get muscle fatigue in the arms while shoveling, but be aware of the classic signs of heart trouble. They include pain or pressure in the center of the chest that may or may not be accompanied by pain in the left arm or jaw and profuse sweating.
"If anyone experiences any of these symptoms, they should stop shoveling immediately and seek medical attention," Dr. Broderick says, adding that, "It's also important to note that not everyone has the 'classic' symptoms. If you feel unwell during shoveling and have concerns about your symptoms, call your primary care physician or 911 immediately. It's always better to err on the side of caution."
For more information about the Brigham and Women's Cardiovascular Associates of Care New England at Memorial please call (401) 729-2262.