Don’t let the harsh winter months impact your health


Be aware of the warning signs of hypothermia, back pain and heart strain

Tips from SSM Health

Hypothermia, heart strain and back pain.

The winter months are harsh – on our skin, our mental health, and especially our bodies. Cold temperatures, snow and ice, and long, dark days can all take a toll on our health. In fact, a study from Nationwide Children’s Hospital suggests emergency department visits for snow-related-injuries average 11,500 per year.

But there are some precautions to take and warning signs to be aware of that can help avoid a disastrous situation.

Matt Lazio, MD, a physician in the SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital – Madison Emergency Department, has some advice for protecting yourself during cold conditions.

When temps start to dip outside, the threat of hypothermia increases. Hypothermia occurs when the body loses heat faster than it can produce it, causing a dangerously low body temperature. A normal body temperature is around 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, so when body temps drop below 95 degrees, hypothermia is a real threat.

“Signs of hypothermia for adults include shivering, confusion, memory loss, slurred speech and exhaustion,” said Dr. Lazio. “For young children look for bright red, cold skin and very low energy.”

More tips from Dr. Lazio include:

  • Dress wisely – Your inner-most layers should be wool, silk or polypropylene since they hold more body heat than cotton. Moisture-wicking clothing will help you stay dry when it’s wet outside. Your outer layer of clothing should be tightly woven — preferably wind-resistant — to reduce body heat loss caused by wind.
  • Be aware – No one knows your body better than you, so listen to it. Shivering is an important sign that your body is losing heat, so if you’re continually shivering, try to get indoors.

“If you notice the symptoms of hypothermia, take the person’s temperature,” said Dr. Lazio. “If it’s below 95 degrees, seek emergency attention. If you can’t get medical care, get the victim to a warm place and remove any wet clothing. Warm the center of the body first, including the chest, neck, head and groin. You can use an electric blanket, or skin-to-skin contact under loose blankets, clothes or towels.”

Shoveling that snowy driveway is already a pain, so don’t let it become an actual health risk.

“Cold weather is already putting an extra strain on your heart,” said Dr. Lazio. “It can increase heart rate and blood pressure, make blood clot more easily, and constrict arteries which decreases blood supply.”

And Dr. Lazio says that shoveling snow can only add to the workload. Here are some things to remember:

  • Stretch it out – Take things slow before you start to shovel. Shoveling is a cardio and a weight-lifting workout combined, and it’s always better to stretch before you do anything strenuous.
  • Push, don’t lift – Push the snow rather than lifting it. If you have to lift, use your legs and not your back.
  • Know your limits – Don’t work to the point of exhaustion. If you ever feel tightness in the chest or dizziness, stop immediately and seek medical attention.

The moral of the story this winter? Listen to your body and don’t push your limits when it comes to the extreme cold and snow. If you think you’re having a medical issue, seek treatment right away.



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