Heart attacks from shoveling snow on the rise: CDHA

HALIFAX – More patients are heading to the emergency room with heart attacks as a result of shoveling snow, according to the Capital District Health Authority.

Nikki Kelly, an emergency room nurse practitioner at the Halifax Infirmary, said there has been an increase in heart attack patients since winter storms started hitting Halifax.

RELATED: Winter safety: Should you be shovelling the snow?

The ER normally sees one heart attack patient a day. After this week’s storm, it saw three heart attack patients, all in connection to shoveling snow.

“Putting extra strain on the heart makes it so the heart has to work very hard,” Kelly said. “It can cause damage to the heart muscle themselves because the heart isn’t being oxygenated.”

“When people are lifting, straining and shoveling, their heart rate goes up and their blood pressure goes up. This is part of the reason they will have heart attacks or chest pain.”

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Some tips from Capital Health include:

  • taking breaks
  • staying hydrated
  • dressing appropriately

EXTERNAL LINK: Snow safety tips from Capital Health

One physiotherapy clinic is also seeing an increase in clients as a result of the snow. Jill Tasker, a physiotherapist and co-owner of the South End Physiotherapy Clinic, said there has been a 10 to 15 per cent jump in patients with shoulder, back and wrist issues, amongst other things.

RELATED: Slipping on your back, breaking bones or triggering a heart attack: Should you be shovelling the winter snow?

“It’s just a question of what people have to use to break up the ice. To break up that hard chunky stuff, you can see some other injuries that you normally won’t get with snow,” Tasker said.

She also said some injuries may not become apparent until after several snowstorms.

“For some people, it’s the accumulation. They can tolerate one snow storm but when it’s three or four storms, it makes it tough,” she said.

Some tips from Tasker include:

  • using an ergonomically designed shovel
  • pacing your shoveling
  • avoiding repetitive movements, e.g. if you normally twist one way to shovel snow, try twisting the other way

The recommendations to avoid over-exerting yourself mean a lot to Krista Dowell, who lives in the south end of Halifax. Dowell’s friend died last year while shoveling snow.

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“He was only in his 50s. He was helping his neighbour shovel the driveway. He just stopped of a heart attack. That was terrible,” she said.

Dowell said she is concerned she or her loved ones could face the same fate so she makes sure to be careful.

“We shovel a little bit at a time. We take breaks in between so we don’t end up having a stroke or heart attack or anything like that.”

Catherine Droesback, the community health promotions lead for the Nova Scotia chapter of the Heart and Stroke Foundation, said 85 per cent of Canadians are physically inactive, which puts them at greater risk for heart attacks.

“Shoveling is a physical activity. [You should] Warm up for instance just like you would for any physically activity,” she said.

EXTERNAL LINK: Tips from Heart and Stroke Foundation on how to shovel smart

“If you go out in the morning and you need to shovel, you may want to walk around a little bit just to get the blood flowing before you take on that vigorous activity.”


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