Doc Talk: Shoveling snow is hard on the heart

Shoveling snow can be hard on the heart. (WWMT)

Living in Michigan, snow shoveling is inevitable – and it’s quite a workout.

In fact, depending on your health, snow shoveling can be too much for your heart to handle.

Hurling heavy snow is hard on the heart.

“It would be a tremendous strain on the heart, to get out there and start doing vigorous physical labor, in the cold, often after a big meal; it’s just all the ingredients for a real tragedy,” said Dr. Robert Lapenna, an interventional cardiologist with Borgess Medical Center.

Even Lapenna has had a close call.

“I went out there and shoveled some pretty heavy snow,” Lapenna said. “It was cold out. I couldn’t believe how quickly I got fatigued and short of breath, and just wiped out. I just wasn't use to it.”

Those are just a few symptoms of overdoing it.

Lapenna said anyone who smokes, has diabetes or a history of heart problems, or who is getting up there in age, is at higher risk for disaster by shoveling snow. So, in those cases, it’s time to put the shovel down.

“Men get, might get, the tightness, pressure, heaviness; and a woman might have fatigue or shortness of breath present with a little bit different scenario,” Lapenna said. “And we worry about the macho guy who wants to burp twice and carry on with shoveling snow.”

If you take a break, and the symptoms come back as you start up again, or they don’t go away at all, then the driveway will have to wait, because it’s time to call 911, Lapenna said.

“The worry is, when the heart starts to starve for oxygen and nutrients then the metabolism of the heart muscle changes somewhat. The angina is going to start, and then you can have irregular heart beats and sudden collapse, or so-called sudden death.”

If you can't avoid shoveling, and you fall into those higher risk categories - diabetes, smoker, history of heart problems or you’re getting older – Lapenna recommends taking it easy.

Be cautious, listen to your body, and seek medical help if necessary.

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