Look out for these health risks while shoveling snow, local doctor says

Blizzard buries east coast landmarks under bed of snow
Posted at 2:44 PM, Feb 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-16 07:36:06-05

(WXYZ) — With a snowstorm on the way for metro Detroit, medical professionals are warning of the health risks that come along with shoveling heavy amounts of snow.

Dr. Chadi Alraies, cardiologist with the Detroit Medical Center’s Heart Hospital, said it's important to distinguish the risks of snow shoveling from those who have a history of heart disease and those who do not.

For those who do not, you should evaluate your health and heart capacity. It will be easier to shovel big piles of snow for those who have "conditioned" hearts rather than those who don't. If you engage in strenuous activity daily, it likely won't be a problem.

However, Dr. Alraies said that even healthy people can still have health risks. The act of shoveling snow itself creates sudden stress on the heart due to low temperatures. Sometimes, the heart rate can increase beyond 150 beats per minute.

Those who do have a history of heart disease should seek other ways to get snow shoveled. If you have the financial capacity to pay someone else, like a neighbor or a friend, to shovel snow, go ahead, Dr. Alraies said.

"If you have someone at home to help you, delegate that task to a more healthy individual," he said.

If these aren't options for you, Dr. Alraies suggested shoveling the snow in stages. Stay warm by bundling up before you head out. Shovel snow for 5-7 minutes, then go back inside and take a 20-minute break. He said shoveling the snow all in one shot is the problem.

Another recommendation is to avoid alcoholic drinks; Dr. Alraies said some people do so in order to keep warm, but it does not really alleviate the stress on the heart.

"Drinking alcohol and then shoveling is not a good exercise, it can cause harm," he said.

These are the signs you should look out for while shoveling:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Dizziness
  • Fogginess
  • Light-headedness
  • Flickers in the vision
  • Chest pain
  • Chest pressure
  • Shortness of breath
  • Arm and neck pain
  • Blurriness

Dr. Alraies said these are the signs of angina/chest pain and heart blockage.

Additionally, he said people should not avoid going to the hospital or calling 911 due to fears of contracting COVID-19. He said hospitals have taken the risk seriously and have taken proper precautions.

Dr. Alraies warned that harm that can happen by avoiding the hospital can be far more serious than the risk of contracted an infection.