By Laura Vasquez, Program Evaluator, U.S. Army Public Health CommandFebruary 1, 2013
Every year, heart attacks claim thousands of lives during harsh winter weather. Heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women in the United States. Winter weather and winter weather activities, particularly shoveling snow, increase a person's risk of a heart attack due to overexertion. Cold weather, combined with a sudden change in physical activity, increases the heart's workload.
February is American Heart Month and a good time to learn how to prevent or react to a heart attack, particularly during the winter months.
It's important to know your risk factors for a heart attack. The elderly and those with heart disease are at highest risk. Being male or having a family history of heart disease also puts you at a greater risk. Some risk factors are within your control to change by adjusting your lifestyle or taking medications. These include quitting smoking, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight and controlling high blood pressure or cholesterol.
This winter, before heading out to shovel snow, consider your risk factors and take appropriate precautions. Taking certain precautions can be the difference between life and death.
Winter Weather Tips for the Heart:
•Take frequent breaks when shoveling snow.
•Use a small shovel or consider a snow blower.
•Don't eat a heavy meal prior to shoveling to avoid the extra load on your heart.
•Don't drink alcohol before or immediately after shoveling.
•Be aware of the dangers of hypothermia.
•Consult your doctor prior to exercising in cold weather.
•Learn CPR to increase a victim's chances of survival.
•Learn heart attack warning signs.
Warning signs of a heart attack are often ignored or overlooked. Heart attacks often start slowly with mild symptoms. Many people do not know the warning signs and often wait too long before getting help. Minutes matter during a heart attack, and early treatment greatly increases the chances of survival. Learn the signs of a heart attack and you can help save a life.
Warning Signs of a Heart Attack:
•Chest pain or discomfort
•Discomfort in upper body, including arms, back, neck, jaw, or shoulder
•Shortness of breath
•Nausea, lightheadedness, cold sweats
If these signs are present, call 9-1-1 immediately!
This winter, make sure to take precautions to prevent a heart attack--know your risk factors, check on your elderly neighbors and learn the warning signs of a heart attack. Remember, prevention and early action save lives!