December 7, 2019

'Tis the Season for Heart Attacks

The risk for heart attack increases during the winter months and holidays. Arteries don't love the cold. Stress increases. Shovelling snow is hard. How can you prevent this? How do you know when you are having a heart attack? Let's discuss this!

'Tis the Season for Heart Attacks

Happy Holidays everybody! It is the most wonderful time of the year . . . unless you are an artery in the heart. Yep, that's right. The risk for a heart attack can increase during the winter months and particularly during the holidays.


  • Arteries don't love the cold, so they tighten themselves up. This restricts blood flow to the heart.  
  • Your hormones can become imbalanced from the lack of sunlight. Particularly, your stress hormone.
  • Shovelling snow is HARD work. If you are not regularly physically active you can easily overexert yourself by shovelling.
  • The emotions and stress around the holidays can be overwhelming.

Decrease the risk by:  

  • Keeping yourself physically active: Either go for regular walks or exercise indoors if you cannot withstand the cold.
  • Taking rests when you need: If you have to take multiple attempts to shovel your sidewalk, then do it. If you are at risk for a heart attacks, find a friend, neighbour or service that can do this task for you. It is NOT worth pushing yourself.
  • Decreasing your stress: Notice I bolded stress twice. Stress is a HUGE risk factor the entire year. Try not to let the stress of the holidays overwhelm you. My favourite Christmas movie is the Grinch. Remember, Christmas doesn't come from the store. If all the family get togethers are what causes you stress, then maybe tell your family to space them out or that you will see them in the New Year. I know this is all easier said than done. But, your heart is pretty important. So, it might be worth the effort.

Signs of a heart attack

The Heart and Stroke Foundation has a great page about the signs of a heart attack (duh, they are the EXPERTS on this). Here is a summary of the symptoms they outline and a bit about them:

  • Chest pain or pressure: often people describe this as a huge amount of weight on the chest, a crushing pain or tightness in the chest.
  • Shortness of breath: feeling like you cannot complete a basic task without needing to "catch your breath", feeling tightness in your chest as your take deep breaths and/or an increase in your rate of breathing.
  • Weird upper body discomfort: this is SUPER vague; but, people often describe a weird sensation, pain or tingling in an area of their upper body. Common areas include neck, jaw, arms, shoulder or back.
  • Looking and feeling ill: you look like CRAP. Sorry, that's just a fact. Your skin can become clammy and sweaty. It can also turn an unhealthy colour like grey or blue in some areas. You also feel like CRAP. You may become nauseous, have heart burn, indigestion or feel faint. When I have had patients experiencing a heart attack they almost always say "I am not feeling well I think I need to lay down or something" and they look like they might collapse if you don't help them lay down soon.

What to do

  • STOP what you are doing (DO NOT finish shovelling the driveway, unloading the car, etc etc) and call 911
  • If you take nitroglycerin, take your normal dosage
  • If you do not take nitro, chew 2 baby aspirin. ASPIRIN ONLY!!! There is no substitute for this. NOT ibuprofen/Advil, NOT acetaminophen/Tylenol
  • EMS will also provide you instruction on the phone

Another way you can feel more confident in how to respond to a heart related emergency is by taking a CPR course. Stay tuned - I will be posting a video demonstration of this soon!

Feel free to contact me regarding a private, customizable CPR and AED course. We can discuss more than just CPR and AED use. I am more than happy to clarify any questions and concerns you have about living with heart disease, decreasing your risks and more.    


Why do heart attacks happen around the holidays?
Why heart attacks spike during the winter holidays
Preventing Winter Heart Attacks
Winter is high time for heart attacks. Before you go out to shovel snow or start your new exercise routine, learn about your personal heart attack risk.
Emergency signs
Learn the warning signs and symptoms of a heart attack, and what to do. Understand the difference between heart attack and cardiac arrest.

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