Jefferson Cardiologist Advises People to Avoid “Heart Attack Snow”

You may have heard wet, heavy snow referred to as “heart attack snow” on the news and by organizations like the American Heart Association. Howard Weitz, MD Division Director of Cardiology at Jefferson shares his advice for keeping your heart safe during Winter Storm Stella.

Avoid shoveling if at all possible; it is weight lifting in the cold
It is normal for the heart’s blood vessels (called coronary arteries) to constrict or “tighten” in response to exposure to cold. This constriction may decrease blood supply to the heart. That is why people who already have  narrow coronary arteries due to plaque may experience chest pain upon exposure to the cold. Shoveling snow increases the heart’s need for blood flow. If that need for blood flow cannot be met, a heart attack may occur. Patients with a history of coronary artery disease even if they have undergone successfully angioplasty or coronary bypass surgery should not shovel snow. Nor should those with cardiac risk factors like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and those who smoke. Additionally, those who do not exercise regularly should avoid overexertion from shoveling.

For all who venture out into the weather, Dr. Weitz reminds them to make sure that they are well protected from the cold by dressing in warm layers and taking frequent breaks while shoveling, sledding and playing in the white stuff.

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