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Shoveling Snow? How To Protect Your Heart

After shoveling the heavy, 18-inch layer of snow that fell overnight on my sidewalk and driveway, my back hurt, my left shoulder ached, and I was tired. Was my body warning me I was having a heart attack, or were these just the aftermath of a morning spent toiling with a shovel? Now that I’m of an AARP age, it’s a question I shouldn’t ignore.

Snow shoveling is a known trigger for heart attacks. Emergency rooms in the snowbelt gear up for extra cases when enough of the white stuff has fallen to force folks out of their homes armed with shovels or snow blowers. 

What’s the connection? Many people who shovel snow rarely exercise. Picking up a shovel and moving hundreds of pounds of snow, particularly after doing nothing physical for several months, can put a big strain on the heart. Pushing a heavy snowblower can do the same thing. Cold weather is another contributor because it can boost blood pressure, interrupt blood flow to part of the heart, and make blood more likely to form clots.

When a clot forms inside a coronary artery (a vessel that nourishes the heart), it can completely block blood flow to part of the heart. Cut off from their supply of life-sustaining oxygen and nutrients, heart muscle cells begin to shut down, and then die. This is what doctors call a myocardial infarction or acute coronary syndrome. The rest of us call it a heart attack.

The so-called classic signs of a heart attack are a squeezing pain in the chest, shortness of breath, pain that radiates up to the left shoulder and down the left arm, or a cold sweat. Other signs that are equally common include jaw pain, lower back pain, unexplained fatigue or nausea, and anxiety. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Harvard Health Blog*

Do Hand and Foot Warmers Work?

Ski season is upon us. There is no greater relief on a frigid winter day than warming cold, painful fingers and toes. In a recent issue of Wilderness and Environmental Medicine (2009;20:33-38), William Sands, Ph.D. and colleagues authored an article entitled, “Comparison of Commercially Available Disposable Chemical Hand and Foot Warmers.” The objective of their study was to characterize the thermal behaviors of 14 commercially available hand and foot warmers.

The warmers were studied in pairs in a laboratory setting, not in frigid conditions. Each warmer was monitored with a rapidly-responding thermister to determine its external temperature. One of each pair of warmers was placed in a boot or glove. Temperature was recorded until the heat output of the devices ceased and the temperature was determined to be identical to ambient temperature.

The results were quite interesting. There was variability both within and between manufacturers and types of warmers. Some of the devices exceeded packaging claims, while others fell short. The greater the mass of the warmer, the longer the duration of heat production. Read more »

This post, Do Hand and Foot Warmers Work?, was originally published on Healthine.com by Paul Auerbach, M.D..

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