How to Lower Your Risk of Heart Attack in Cold Weather

by Swarna Bheemreddy, MD, FACC

Cold weather activities such as snow shoveling, skiing or walking through heavy wet snow can increase the heart's work load. Exposure to cold air constricts blood vessels, increases heart rate and decreases oxygen supply to the heart, which can trigger a heart attack.

You may be at risk of heart attack during cold outdoor activities if any of the following apply to you:

  • Over 50 and overweight
  • Prior history of heart attack or congestive heart failure
  • Have heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Smoke

Precautions to take while shoveling snow include:

  • Don't shovel early in the morning. This is when blood is more prone to clotting.
  • Avoid eating a heavy meal just before shoveling.
  • Warm up first.
  • Don't drink coffee, smoke, or consume alcohol, all of which can elevate your blood pressure and heart rate, at least one hour before and after shoveling.
  • Use a small shovel.
  • Shovel slowly and take frequent breaks.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Dress in layers.
  • Cover your head, neck and ears.
  • Watch for warning signs of a heart attack, such as tightness or discomfort in the chest, neck, arms, or back. Other signs include lightheadedness, dizziness, heart racing, and shortness of breath.
  • If you think you're having a heart attack call 911.

Anyone at high risk–with any of the conditions noted above–should avoid shoveling snow completely.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Bheemreddy, call Partners in CardioVascular Health at 302.421.4828

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