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Can shoveling snow cause a heart attack?

J J. Marshall, MD
J J. Marshall, MD on behalf of SCAI
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
If you live in a region that receives snowfall, you might wonder how safe it is to shovel snow. Can people really have heart attacks from shoveling snow? Or is it that people who have heart attacks during snowstorms would have had the heart attack anyway? The answer to both questions can be yes, but it’s a little bit more complicated than that.

Shoveling snow is hard work and causes stress on the heart, including elevated blood pressure. Each shovel load of snow can average 16 pounds. Now, think about how many shovels full of snow it takes to clear a driveway or sidewalk. This adds up to a lot of strenuous activity for someone who may have underlying cardiovascular disease or who is often sedentary. Heart attacks and cardiac arrest while shoveling snow can be caused by a number of possible factors:
  • Previously unrecognized cardiovascular disease 
  • A sedentary lifestyle 
  • Stress placed on the cardiovascular system by strenuous upper body exercise 
  • Cold weather, which can cause the body to work harder to maintain a healthy temperature 
Essentially, shoveling snow can cause someone to have a heart attack who was already at high risk of having one. It can also trigger a heart attack in someone who has cardiovascular disease but who otherwise was not at immediate risk of a heart attack. If you have been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease or have risk factors such as high blood pressure or diabetes, talk with your doctor about shoveling safety, and void extremes of temperature. Even if you are not aware of any cardiovascular problems, shovel with caution. Be sure to wear warm layers, stay hydrated with water, and take lots of breaks.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.