This weekend’s snowstorm stands as one of the greatest November storms, accumulating more than a foot of snow in Cook County. On days when it snows heavily, emergency rooms can become full of residents who have developed sudden medical problems caused by shoveling snow.

According to Cook County Health medical staff, shoveling snow places unusual stress on the cardiovascular system. Heart rates and blood pressure levels are substantially higher causing increased cardiovascular stress. The combination of colder temperatures and physical exertion increase the risk of a heart attack during snow shoveling.

Here are tips for keeping the heart safe while shoveling snow:

  • Check the weather –Wear winter boots with good traction and avoid shoes with smooth, slippery bottoms. Dress in layers, to avoid hypothermia.
  • Cover as much as your face as possible while outside, breathe through a scarf to warm air before it enters your lungs.
  • Avoid heavy meals and alcohol before or after shoveling.
  • Warm up your muscles before starting by walking for a few minutes.
  • Use smaller shovels and if you’re not sure if you should be shoveling snow, check with your doctor or ask your neighbors to do it.
  • Begin slowly and take frequent, 15-minute breaks.
  • Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
  • Watch for warning signs of a heart attack: lightheadedness, dizziness, shortness of breath, or if you have tightness or burning in chest, neck arms or back. If you think you are having a heart attack, call 911.
  • Seek medical attention immediately if you encounter hypothermia or frostbite.

Stay safe this winter. As always, stay connected with Cook County Health on Twitter at CookCTYHealth or dial 312-864-6000 to get connected to the hospital.