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Friday, January 22, 2016

Warnings - The Dangers of Shoveling Snow: Why Some People Drop Dead While Shoveling Snow

Each approaching blizzard brings warnings about the dangers of shoveling snow, an activity that sends thousands of Americans to emergency rooms each winter. Don't tackle the walkway if you aren't in good enough shape, say the experts. You can get hurt or, even worse, trigger a heart attack or stroke.

Medically speaking, a person is indeed more likely to keel over while heaving snow than, say, jogging on a treadmill. But why?

"Physically, what happens when you get really cold is you have constriction of the blood vessels," says Lawrence Phillips, a cardiologist at NYU Langone Medical Center. "It decreases the blood supply you're getting to your vital organs."

That's bad news for people with heart problems, diabetes or high blood pressure. But just as big a problem is that many people dig in despite not having exercised in weeks or months or years. "If you haven't been exercising and you haven't been exerting yourself, this is not the time to start," Phillips said. "The amount of work that goes into shoveling snow is tremendous. ... People will underestimate the amount of work they are doing."

At the gym, he noted, it's easy to hop off a treadmill when you start feeling winded or to slip out of that spin class early. But shoveling snow tends to be a "goal-oriented" activity. Call it pride, stubbornness or maybe naivete, but men especially tend to keep at it until the job is finished -- or, too often, until disaster strikes.

"They are pushing to clear a driveway or a sidewalk," Phillips said, "and they aren't thinking about how their bodies are responding to that."

William Suddath, an interventional cardiologist at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, likens it to "beginning a weightlifting program in freezing temperatures without any preparation."

Suddath has witnessed the consequences firsthand. During the epic "Snowmaggedon" that hit the Washington region in 2010, his hospital saw a wave of emergencies involving people who'd suffered heart attacks while shoveling the mountains of snow.

"Heart attack rates go up, sudden deaths go up," he said, with the weather often preventing paramedics from reaching people as quickly as they otherwise might. "Some heart attacks likely will not be reversed as they could have been in another situation. It's a major problem during a snowstorm when you just can't get to patients."


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