6 Snow Shoveling Precautions for Patients with Chronic Conditions

January 26th 2016
Meghan Ross, Senior Associate Editor
Meghan Ross, Senior Associate Editor

In the wake of Winter Storm Jonas, retail clinicians should highlight some of the dangers associated with snow shoveling for their patients with heart disease, hypertension, and high cholesterol.

In the wake of Winter Storm Jonas, retail clinicians should highlight some of the dangers associated with snow shoveling for their patients with heart disease, hypertension, and high cholesterol.

At least 14 individuals have died because of heart problems that occurred while shoveling snow after the latest winter storm.

A man in his 80s died after going into cardiac arrest while shoveling snow in Washington, DC, according toThe Associated Press (AP).In addition, a US capitol police officer in Delaware, 2 men in Maryland, a woman in New Jersey, 3 New Yorkers, and a man in Virginia all died of heart attacks while shoveling.

Five people died in Pennsylvania while they were shoveling or operating a snow blower, including 18-year-old Briahna Gerloff who was 8 months pregnant and had a heart ailment, theAPreported.

So, what is the relationship between heart problems and shoveling snow?

A 2011 study found that there are an average of 11,500 emergency room visits each year related to shoveling snow, 7% of which are associated with cardiac issues.

While this percentage may seem small, the study authors noted that these 7% of cases are the most serious, as they accounted for 100% of the 1647 fatalities between 1990 and 2006.

In the study, patients most at risk were men aged 55 years or older. This patient population was twice as likely as women to suffer cardiac symptoms while shoveling.

The study authors noted that systolic blood pressure and heart rate greatly increase during shoveling.

They also stated that the body suffers when cardiovascular demands meet cold temperatures. The cold by itself can even increase cardiac workload due to peripheral vasoconstriction and increased blood viscosity.

“Not only is the heart’s workload increased due to shoveling snow, but cold temperatures also add to the chances of a heart attack in at-risk individuals,” said Gary Smith, MD, DrPH, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy, in the press release.

Dr. Smith advised patients to speak with a health care professional about shoveling, especially if they do not exercise regularly, have a medical condition, or are a part of a high-risk group.

Patients with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or a history of cardiac problems may want to consider hiring someone to clear their driveways or walkways, or ask a loved one for help.

Physician assistants and nurse practitioners in retail clinicians can also provide the following tips to all patients:

  1. Do some light exercises prior to shoveling.
  2. Take frequent breaks while shoveling.
  3. Try to push the snow instead of lifting and transporting it.
  4. Use an ergonomically designed shovel to lessen the need for exertion.
  5. Take several shifts of shoveling instead of doing all the work at once.
  6. Don’t forget appropriate snow gear like boots with good traction, gloves, a hat, and a scarf.

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