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Snow Shoveling and Heart Attack - Myth or Fact

Tim Boyer's picture
Snow shoveling

Snow shoveling and the risk of experiencing a heart attack is an urban legend that until recently fell in limbo somewhere between myth and fact. In a recent retrospective study of 500 patients admitted to Kingston General Hospital during the past two winters, cardiologists crunched the numbers behind snow shoveling and heart attacks and believe that they have found the answer to whether this urban legend is a myth or a fatal fact.

A study made earlier this year by researchers at the Center of Injury Research and Policy from the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital revealed that during 1990 to 2006 an average of 11,500 snow shoveling-related injuries and medical complications sent U.S. patients to emergency rooms annually.

Published in the January 2011 edition of the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, the snow shoveling injuries tallied into a range of categories:

• Soft tissue injuries (55 percent)
• Lacerations and fractures (16 percent and 7 percent respectively)
• Lower back injuries (34 percent), followed by injuries to the arms and hands (16 percent) and head injuries (15 percent)
• Acute musculoskeletal exertion (54 percent)
• Slips or falls (20 percent)
• Being struck by a snow shovel (15 percent)

For heart attacks, snow shoveling accounted for seven percent and is replicated by a separate, more recent study performed at Kingston General Hospital, led by Adrian Baranchuk, M.D. a professor in Queen’s School of Medicine and a cardiologist at Kingston General Hospital.

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According to a Queen’s University news release, Dr. Baranchuk believes that these numbers indicate that there is more fact than myth to the snow shoveling/heart attack urban legend. “That is a huge number,” says Dr. Baranchuk. “Seven percent of anything in medicine is a significant proportion. Also, if we take into account that we may have missed some patients who did not mention that they were shoveling snow around the time that the episode occurred, that number could easily double.”

Dr. Baranchuk and collaborators of the study determined that there are three primary factors that place an individual at a high risk of having a heart attack while shoveling snow:

• The first factor is gender—31 of the 35 patients were male.
• The second factor is family history of premature coronary artery disease—20 of the 35 patients had a family history of heart disease.
• The third factor is smoking —16 out of 35 patients were smokers.

The authors of the study contend that the second and third factors likely are more significant than the first factor, but cannot be determined because of the relative preponderance of the number of men shoveling snow over the number of women from the data used in the study.

The authors of the study also found that of those who had a history of taking four or more heart-related medications during the time of actively shoveling snow, that cardiac medications may attribute toward a preventive measure from experiencing a heart attack while shoveling snow during the winter.

Source: Clinical Trials in Cardiology http://www.springerlink.com/content/mn74686808331g12/
Image source of snow shoveling: Wikipedia