Published December 3, 2014
Anne B. Curtis, MD, Charles and Mary Bauer Professor and chair of medicine, says patients with coronary heart disease and heart failure should not overexert themselves while engaging in cold-weather tasks, such as clearing snow.
“The stress puts them at risk for a fatal heart rhythm problem, cardiac arrest,” says Curtis, one of the world’s leading clinical cardiac electrophysiologists and an expert in cardiac arrhythmias.
“It’s out-of-the-ordinary stress that gets people, whatever they are doing,” says Curtis, noting that cardiac deaths have occurred during attempts at snow removal.
“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,” Curtis explains.
Using a snowblower also carries risks, Curtis adds.
“A snowblower seems more benign, but people are still out in the cold and may operate it for a longer period of time; it still requires maneuvering through a lot of snow.”
Heavy storms, when snow accumulates several inches or more, are 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 it’s a stress on the body.”
Curtis, a UB Distinguished Professor, plays a key role in developing national guidelines for treating atrial fibrillation. This heart rhythm disorder can cause fatigue, shortness of breath and exercise intolerance, and can lead to heart failure.
Curtis’ clinical research has significantly advanced knowledge of human cardiac electrophysiology and heart-rhythm abnormalities.
She has been involved in conducting clinical trials for more than 25 years.
A national clinical trial she led showed certain heart failure patients who need pacemakers benefit from treatment that resynchronizes both sides of the heart; results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The global health care information website Expertscape recognized Curtis as a leading investigator, ranking her among the world’s top 10 experts on implantable defibrillators.