Is Shoveling a Risk for Heart Attack? Yes

The recent blizzards that hit the East Coast may result in shoveling deaths.

ByABC News
February 11, 2010, 6:38 PM

Feb. 12, 2010— -- The latest wave of snowstorms that struck snow-novice areas of Maryland and Washington D.C. has people worried about dangerous roads and highways.

But doctors also remind us of another snow-related danger: shoveling.

Studies made of the period after large snowstorms have repeatedly shown that shoveling puts people at risk for heart attacks -- even in cities experienced with snowstorms.

One storm that hit the Detroit area resulted in 36 people struck with sudden cardiac death while shoveling, according to an article published in the American Journal of Cardiology published in 2003.

Rowena Young, 78, was stunned when it happened to her husband in after a snowstorm December 2009.

"He was protecting me because he didn't want me to do it, because I had had open heart surgery and I wasn't allowed to shovel," said Young.

Otis Young, a popular local minister, who was 78, used a snow blower to clear the driveway of their Lincoln, Neb., home. But then the snowplow came down the street and left a ridge of snow at the end of their driveway that was too big for the blower and too high to drive over, so he grabbed a shovel.

"I wasn't really watching him, and it was very cold that morning. He was trying to chop the snow up so he could get out," said Young. "He came in, I thought he was fine. He hung up his shovel and his coat."

But then she heard a thump.

Young called 911, but there was nothing the first responders could do.

Doctors say they see an increase in all heart troubles following a blizzard, not just heart attacks.

Dr. Patrick McBride, professor of medicine and director of preventive cardiology at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine in Madison, said his colleagues worked with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and prevention to study rates of heart problems following major snowstorms.

"They found that heart attack rates go up 20 percent in the week following storms like this," said McBride.