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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*

Why Snowstorms May Be Good For Your Health

It is 4 o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon in February, and I’m sitting in a chair with a laptop computer warming my thighs like an obedient lapdog. I’m swaddled in a cozy bathrobe. My feet are toasty warm inside slippers as I sip hot tea with honey. I’ve raised the blinds on the windows, and as I watch the wet snow swirling sideways in a chaotic display of white, I can’t help feeling giddy that work was cancelled today. I have an overall sense of unproductive euphoria as the gears and pistons of capitalism freeze over. Could blizzards be good for health?

On a normal day I would be 30-40 minutes late seeing patients by now. I would have a dull headache from concentrating all day on hundreds of problems, symptoms, and questions, and my blood pressure would be about 135/84, pulse 89.  But the white flakes of water drifting on the winds seem weightless, elemental, and self-sufficient. They certainly have no interest in me as I enjoy their infinite procession. I estimate my blood pressure is 108/72, pulse 61. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The Examining Room of Dr. Charles*

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