‘Heart attack’ snow: How to avoid potential dangers as you shovel

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CLEVELAND – As people dig out from the latest snow storm to hit Northeast Ohio, experts are reminding about the potential dangers of shoveling so-called “heart attack” snow.

In many parts of the area, the snowfall was wet and slushy, making it particularly heavy. While it might seem like common-sense, doctors said you should use caution while shoveling.

Experts said shoveling snow can be as strenuous as running on a treadmill, and it can trigger heart attacks, particularly among those who don’t otherwise exercise much.

“Especially with the heavy snow-- there’s a lot of exertion with just something as seemingly easy as shoveling a driveway. The reason is, as you're lifting that snow, that can weigh up to 10 or 20 pounds, and if you do that repetitively that's a lot of strain on your entire body,” said Dr. Christopher Tangen, Medical Director of Sports Medicine for University Hospitals Regional Hospitals.

Tangen said people with a history of heart problems or back problems should be especially careful.

  • Other recommendations for anyone shoveling snow:
    -Stretch to warm up muscles before starting
    -Dress warmly
    -Take frequent breaks
    -Drink plenty of water
    -Try to push snow, rather than lift it
    -Lift with your legs, not your back

If you have signs of a heart attack, including chest pain and shortness of breath, you should seek help immediately. Other lingering pain could also signal that it’s time to see your doctor.

“If you're having aches and pains after shoveling snow, and the pain isn't going away after icing or stretching for a couple days, or the pain is shooting down your legs or up your back, those are times you need to go see a doctor,” Tangen said.

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