Heart attacks more common in winter, know the signs and risks

HARRISONBURG, Va (WHSV) — Cardiac events like heart attacks can be more common in the winter according to Dr. Brad Rash, director of cardiology at Sentara RMH, and if you'll be shoveling snow this weekend, he urges you to take it easy.

Rash says it's important to know the symptoms of a heart attack and what can put you at risk for one.

Cold weather challenges the cardio vascular system more, especially for people with cardiac issues and smokers, he says. Working out in the cold or shoveling snow can put people at a higher risk for a heart attack.

Rash says the most common symptom is the same for men and women — chest pressure that can sometimes linger into the left arm. But sometimes, he says, the symptoms for women can be more subtle.

"Very often women will say there's something wrong, but they can't quite put their finger on it," Rash said. "Sometimes they'll have more shortness of breath as an isolated symptom, sometimes they'll have more back pain."

Those who do not regularly exercise are at a much higher risk of a heart attack, especially when shoveling snow or exercising outside.

"It's very common for folks to begin to have symptoms with exertion, and then they go into denial and feel like maybe it's OK," Rash said. "Maybe it's nothing serious. very often those folks delay coming in when they really should come in right away."

He says staying active through the winter is the best way to avoid a heart attack, but if you feel any symptoms, you should call 911 immediately to avoid permanent damage.