Snow Shoveling Linked to Fatal Heart Attacks

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Jan 27, 2016 05:01 AM EST

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 13: Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority employees shovel snow out of bus stops at the Takoma Metrorail Station February 13, 2014 in Washington, DC. Up to 12 inches of snow fell over the Washington area causing WMATA to cancel bus service but rail service continued to operate. (Photo : Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Heart experts warn the general public of possible dangers of shoveling snow, especially to those who are of age and those who live sedentary lifestyles.

At least 45 deaths related to the snowstorm that hit the East Coast have been reported, says CBS news. More than a dozen of these are the result of having heart attacks while shoveling snow. In New York City, at least 10 have died while shoveling as well.

Heart attacks that are related to snow shoveling are also reported in different places, including New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. Most of these cases happened to adults over 60-years old.

"The people that are at risk are a certain population: those who are over 55, who are sedentary, who have known coronary heart disease or risk factors," Dr. Tara Narula, a cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, said on "CBS This Morning."

Dr. Guy L. Mintz, a cardiologist with a practice in Great Neck and an associate professor of medicine at the Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine, told Newsday that, although people over 55 are more susceptible to heart attacks, it can happen at any age.

Dr. Steven Bird, emergency medicine physician at UMass Memorial Medical Center, agrees with what Mintz said, stating that it's not about the age but about a person's fitness level.

"I think in some epidemiological studies show people over 55 have a greater risk of heart attack than those under. But it probably has to do with conditioning," Bird said.

Apparently, this is because shoveling snow is a heavy task. Dr. Evelina Grayver, director of coronary care for Northwell Health, described is as “serious weightlifting in frozen temperatures.”

Experts say that a person's heart rate and blood pressure goes up when shoveling snow. The cold temperatures add to the hardship by constricting blood vessels and by causing the blood to get thicker and more prone to clotting.

As such, people are advised to to be careful when planning to shovel snow. Shoveling snow under cold temperatures is a vigorous exercise that strains the heart. Bird said that, if a person has an existing heart condition or a poor level of fitness, caution is key.

Experts say that, to help lessen or avoid the risk of injury and heart strain, warm clothing and lots of breaks from time to time will help. Not trying to shove all the snow away in one fell swoop is also recommended.

People should also know the signs of a heart attack, which includes excessive fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain and nausea. If any of these symptoms occur, best call 911, Bird said.

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