After the storm: Whether shoveling or snow blowing, heart patients must exercise caution, advises UB cardiologist

Release Date: January 27, 2015 This content is archived.

Anne Curtis.

Anne Curtis, MD,
Professor and Chair,
UB Department of Medicine

“Patients with coronary heart disease or heart failure should definitely not push themselves in this kind of weather. ”
Anne Curtis, MD, Professor and Chair
UB Department of Medicine

BUFFALO, N.Y. — After the blizzard has its way with the Northeast and moves on, what is the best way to start clearing snow if you’ve had heart issues?

Both shoveling and snow-blowing have their risks, cautions Anne B. Curtis, MD, Charles and Mary Bauer Professor and Chair of the Department of Medicine in the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and UB Distinguished Professor. She is one of the world's leading clinical cardiac electrophysiologists, who are experts in cardiac arrhythmias.

“Patients with coronary heart disease or heart failure should definitely not push themselves in this kind of weather,” says Curtis, who sees patients at UBMD Internal Medicine, where she also is president and chief executive officer. “The stress puts them at risk for a fatal heart-rhythm problem, cardiac arrest.

“It's out-of-the-ordinary stress that gets people, whatever they are doing,” she explains. “Many people are sedentary most of the time and not used to a lot of exertion. Shoveling is a lot of work and a risk for people with heart disease.

“A snow blower seems more benign, but then people are still out in the cold, may operate it for a longer period of time, and it still requires maneuvering it through a lot of snow,” she explains.

This storm, in particular, where some areas will be dealing with two feet of snow or more, is especially dangerous.

“Snowblowing probably wouldn’t be an issue if someone was trying to remove 2-3 inches of snow from their driveway or sidewalk,” says Curtis. “However, I've seen people pushing snow blowers through much higher piles of snow. That is difficult to do, and a stress on the body.”

Curtis plays a key role in developing national treatment guidelines for treating atrial fibrillation, a heart rhythm disorder that can cause fatigue, shortness of breath, exercise intolerance, and can even lead to heart failure. Her clinical research has significantly advanced knowledge of human cardiac electrophysiology and heart-rhythm abnormalities.

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