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Snow Shoveling Advice From Our Emergency Department

Westwood, NJ – While this winter may not have broken records for depth of snow, the constant cold has everyone yearning for spring. Even though the groundhog has emerged, spring is still weeks away and Bergen County could yet see multiple snowfalls before the crocuses bloom. Snow shoveling has become a regular occurrence for many Bergen County residents with all its attendant muscle aches and pains.


For some people, those in good physical shape, a little snow shoveling can be welcome exercise or can substitute for a trip to the gym. For others, it’s an onerous task with potential medical consequences. People with hypertension, a known cardiac condition, or even a strong family history of heart problems need to think twice before tackling the snow accumulation themselves. For those with a sedentary lifestyle, the rapid exertion could provoke a heart attack.

“You could think of snow shoveling as a cardiac stress test like the one you might take on a treadmill”, commented Cary Chiang, M.D., Medical Director of the Emergency Department at HackensackUMC at Pascack Valley. “Your heart rate goes up and the effort is exhausting. This can be a dangerous combination, particularly for people with a cardiac history or a chronic condition such as diabetes”.

Most people are aware of the classic symptoms of a heart attack: crushing chest pain that might radiate down the arm or into the jaw, difficulty breathing, and fatigue. However, it’s important for people to understand that many acute heart problems first appear with atypical symptoms. Women may, for example, feel sudden extreme exhaustion or difficulty breathing as their main symptom. They may not realize that their heart is in trouble and neglect to go to the Emergency Department.

“Whether or not they have been shoveling snow, anyone feeling symptoms of a heart attack such as chest pain, difficulty breathing, or unexplained fatigue should call 9-1-1 for assistance. They should not drive to the hospital or doctor’s office in case the condition deteriorates on the way. This could result in a motor vehicle crash or worse”, said Dr. Chiang. In this area, we have excellent emergency medical technicians and paramedics who are in contact with the hospital and can begin your treatment right in the ambulance.”

Medical experts also advise avoiding caffeine or nicotine before snow shoveling. Stimulants can increase heart rate and constrict blood vessels causing strain on the heart. People who must shovel snow should dress in layers, push snow instead of lifting it, and take frequent breaks. Bending from the knees and not twisting will lessen strain on the back and other muscles. After shoveling, drink plenty of fluids to help cool muscles and rehydrate the skin and other organs. As we wait for spring, HackensackUMC at Pascack Valley wants everyone to stay safe and avoid injuries.

About Hackensack UMC at Pascack Valley
Hackensack UMC at Pascack Valley is a 128-bed, full-service, acute-care community hospital, providing the same nationally recognized quality care for which Hackensack University Medical Center is known. The hospital features all private patient rooms at no additional cost, a state-of-the-art obstetrical unit, an intensive/critical care unit, five operating rooms, one special procedure room, and a cardiac catheterization laboratory. This inpatient hospital act as an anchor to many in-demand, outpatient services such as radiology, women’s health and same day surgery. For more, please visit www.hackensackumcpv.com

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