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Safety first in shoveling snow

Area physician recommends taking it ‘easy and slow’ when removing white stuff

January 3, 2012
By KYLE WHITNEY - Journal Staff Writer and The Associated Press ( , The Mining Journal

MARQUETTE -Though most local residents have likely already dug themselves out from under the remnants of Sunday's winter storm, there is certainly much snow removal left to be done this winter.

And for many people, the prospect of moving large amounts of the white - and often heavy - stuff can be a daunting and sometimes dangerous task.

Heart attacks and reports of chest pains increase in the winter months and can oftentimes be linked to such sudden, strenuous activity.

Article Photos

Marquette Downtown Development Authority employee Don LeComb shovels snow in downtown Marquette Monday morning following a winter storm that dropped more than 6 inches of snow on parts of the state. (Journal photo by Kyle Whitney)

Dr. Douglas LaBelle, an emergency department physician at Ishpeming's Bell Hospital, said he has seen people who have suffered heart attacks while shoveling snow from rooftops and he recalls many instances of chest pain.

Often, people suffering from chest pain are not actually having a heart attack, but LaBelle said the pain often unmasks other heart problems, like partial blockages.

"When people perform any activity that is more strenuous than they are accustomed to, that can stress the heart," he said.

Cold winter air makes breathing difficult and places a strain on the body and LaBelle said that is one reason heart-related incidents increase in winter.

The classic symptoms of a heart attack, he said, include a feeling of heaviness or tightness in the chest that radiates up through the arm or jaw, a shortness of breath and dizziness or lightheadedness.

According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, about 1.2 million people in the United States suffer heart attacks each year.

And whie there are long-term ways to protect against a heart attack, LaBelle said there is little to no preventive care that can be undertaken the morning of a snow storm.

"Prevention is a tough one," he said. "There's not a whole lot you can do other than go easy and go slow. The most important thing any of us could do to reduce chance of a heart attack is to quit smoking and to exercise."

If you are accustomed to physical activity, you are less likely to suffer a heart attack or a far more common muscle or joint injury.

And while specially designed ergonomic shovels may help to prevent back and muscle injuries, LaBelle said they likely do little to prevent a heart attack.

"I'm not aware of any study that shows they're better as far as the heart goes," he said.

If you think you may be having a heart attack, the best course of action, LaBelle said, is to call 911 immediately.

Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.



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