Why Heart Hospitalizations Rise After a Snowstorm

People may delay care because of poor road conditions

Major snow events usually are inconvenient for most of us. But according to a recent study, the days following a big snowstorm can mean spending time in the hospital for some people.

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Researchers analyzed admission data from a five-year period at four Boston-area hospitals for a variety of snow-related events where the accumulation was at least 10 inches.

They found that admissions for heart-related events went down during the actual storms, but in the days following the storm, admissions for people for cardiovascular issues were 22 percent higher than on days without snow.

The study suggests one reason for the uptick could be that people who are susceptible to heart-related illness may tend to stay indoors during the snowfall, or delay care because the road conditions are too bad.

Other findings from the study:

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  • Cold-related admissions increased by 3.7 percent on high snowfall days and remained high for five days afterwards.
  • Admissions for falls increased by 18 percent on average in the six days after a moderate snowfall day.

Emergency departments get busy

Emergency department physician Tom Waters, MD, says he often sees an increase in the number of patients coming to the hospital emergency department in the days following a snowstorm.

“Afterwards, everybody’s trying to get out and do things — maybe doing things they shouldn’t be doing, or they’ve just delayed the care they would have normally come in for, but because of the storm they waited,” he says.

It’s important to remember too, that heart-related events can be brought on by trying to do too much without having the strength or stamina to handle it, he says.

You should treat snow shoveling as exercise, Dr. Waters says — and remember to only do what is within your ability.

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“You wouldn’t walk out of your house and try and run five miles on day one of a new exercise program,” he says. “You’ve got to work up to it slowly. So if you do need to get out there and shovel, think of it that way. In other words, don’t over-exert yourself.”

There are other ways to get snow removed without harming yourself, Dr. Waters says. He encourages people to either hire someone to remove the snow on your driveway, walks and steps, or find a neighbor who is capable or has the right equipment to do it for you.

Complete results of the study can be found online in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

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