As Snow Falls, a Rising Number of North Dakota ER Visits
BISMARCK, N.D. – As parts of North Dakota continue to get blanketed by a thick layer of snow, a reminder that the wintery conditions don't just bring dangers on the highways, but also right at home.
Dr. Jeffrey Sather, an emergency room physician at Trinity Health in Bismarck, says heart issues are common when snow falls and people who don't normally get a lot of physical activity head outside to clear their sidewalks and driveways.
"We see every year an increase in cardiac issues in the local areas, like we have here where we get snow,” he says. “It's very common to have sudden cardiac arrest outside of the hospital and the activity at the time is the persons shoveling their driveway."
Heart disease is the leading killer in North Dakota, accounting for nearly a quarter of all deaths in the state each year.
In addition to the physical exertion, Sather says another reason for the increase in hospital visits for heart issues when it snows is because the symptoms can be masked while a person is shoveling.
"Common things that we think of happening – chest pain, maybe a little bit of sweating, a little bit of nausea – those things they can attribute to the fact they're bundled warm and they're doing exercise,” he explains. “So they ignore those symptoms and they actually may even ignore them more than they would otherwise because of the activity they're doing."
Sather says if you recognize that you're suffering from the symptoms, you should call 911 right away.
And he also has some suggestions to prevent heart issues when shoveling for those not used to the exercise.
"Certainly just taking it easy,” he stresses, "doing small amounts at a time, taking breaks in between and resting. Hiring the neighbor kid to go do it is an option for some people, and probably if you're in poor health or you're elderly that's money well spent, is to get a neighbor kid to do it."
The American Heart Association has more tips online at heart.org for shoveling safely.