How to Prevent Winter Heart Attacks

The weather outside is starting to look frightful. In a typical northeastern Indiana winter, we often have to don our winter gear and grab a shovel – or, if you’re lucky, a snowblower – to plow a path for our cars. While shoveling can be tedious, it can also be dangerous for those with a history of poor cardiovascular health or preexisting conditions.

Over the course of a 17-year study, researchers recorded 1,647 deaths attributed to shoveling, all of which were cardiac-related. Cameron’s board-certified cardiologist, Dr. John Varner, DO, FACC, explains what happens to the body under the strain of shoveling:

“The act of shoveling heavy wet snow typically leads to patients holding their breath and ‘grunting through it.’ Additionally, to push through and complete the task ahead of them, patients will ignore their body’s distress signals. This behavior increases the tearing forces within blood vessels that lead to plaque rupture and, ultimately, a heart attack.”

To protect yourself and your loved ones this winter, Dr. Varner shared the following tips on how to prevent heart attacks and respond to a cardiac emergency.

Know the signs of a heart attack.

A heart attack is caused by inadequate blood flow to the heart muscle. Symptoms vary widely, but watch out for several common signs of trouble:

  • Chest pain or discomfort with exertion
  • Heavy, tight or squeezing pain that radiates to the neck, jaw or left arm
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness or weakness

Act quickly.

If you think you or a loved one is experiencing a heart attack, time is of the essence. Call 911 immediately to seek emergency medical care. Don’t wait for symptoms to get worse – the longer symptoms persist, the more likely irreparable injury will occur. According to Dr. Varner, “Better to get reassurance that everything is OK than suffer permanent heart damage.”

Be proactive.

Living a healthy lifestyle and controlling risk factors can help prevent heart attacks. Though some can be challenging, taking these actions can improve your long-term heart health:

  • Stop smoking.
  • Know your numbers, including blood pressure, ejection fraction and cholesterol levels.
  • Control your blood pressure.
  • Lower your cholesterol.
  • Monitor diabetes levels.
  • Maintain healthy body weight and diet.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Schedule routine appointments with your physician.

Dr. Varner has this final advice for preventing heart attacks this winter: Don’t overdo it or, better yet, pay for snow removal. Pay attention to your body and stop what you’re doing to seek immediate emergency care if you experience any of the cardiac warning symptoms.

Cameron’s cardiology team is here to help, so rely on our experts to either diagnose your condition or reassure you that your heart is healthy. For more information on Dr. Varner and the Cameron Cardiology team, or to schedule an appointment, visit


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