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Recognizing the signs of a heart attack

  • SIMA
- Posted: October 28, 2014

By Cheryl Higley

Snow & ice management work is strenuous and can be pressure packed. It’s important for team members (particularly those on shovel duty) to physically prepare themselves for the task at hand, including warming up and stretching muscles to prevent injury.

Every winter, newspapers are filled with stories of people who suffer heart attacks while shoveling their walks, but it could just as easily happen to anyone on your snow & ice team. It’s important for people to listen to their bodies while on the job and that each team member be trained to recognize the signs of a heart attack. It could be a matter of life or death.

Know the difference
Many people use the words cardiac arrest and heart attack interchangeably, but the American Heart Association says it’s important to know that there is a difference.

Cardiac arrest is an “electrical” problem with the heart that causes it to stop beating unexpectedly. A person will become quickly unresponsive, stop breathing or gasp for breath. Without treatment, death occurs within minutes.

A heart attack is a “circulation” problem that occurs when blood flow to the heart is blocked. Most heart attacks don’t lead to cardiac arrest but when cardiac arrest occurs, a heart attack is the common cause.

Signs of a heart attack
The American Heart Association identifies the following as the most common signs and symptoms of a heart attack:

  • The most common symptom is chest pain or discomfort. Pain (which may feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness or sharp pain) is usually found in the center of the chest and lasts more than a few minutes or may go away and come back.
  • Some people may experience discomfort in other areas of the upper body, including the arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath may occur with or without chest comfort.
  • Other symptoms may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
  • It’s important for those with women on their teams to also understand that they do not always present with the most commons symptoms and are more prone to experience those that may mirror illness or stress (sweating, jaw or back pain, nausea, and shortness of breath). In all cases, symptoms may come on suddenly and intensely, but most start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Never dismiss the symptoms!

What to do?

  • If you or someone on your team experiences any of the symptoms noted above, immediately ask someone to call 911 for help. Waiting can cause irreparable harm to the heart or even death.
  • Do not drive yourself or have someone else drive you to the hospital unless you have no other choice.
  • Remain calm, still and take deep, slow breaths while you wait for emergency response.
  • In the event of cardiac arrest, call 911 and start CPR right away. Use an Automated External Defibrillator as soon as possible if it’s available. If two people are available, one should call 911 while the other begins CPR.

Snow & ice best practices
To ensure your team’s safety, implement the following safety precautions:

  • Conduct preseason training that teaches the symptoms and warning signs of a heart attack.
  • Require at least one person on the team to be CPR-certified.
  • Make note of the nearest 24-hour emergency rooms that provide cardiac care to the work site. Keep this list in the team’s safety binder (either in the truck or online if you’re documentation is web-based).
  • Have a plan in the event someone becomes ill while on-site. This could include designating a chain of command and protocols to coordinate emergency care and communication.

Important downloadable resources

What is a heart attack?

Recognizing the symptoms of a heart attack

Spanish resources can be requested at

More information, including an online library of heart-related information and presentations, is available at and

Disclaimer: This post is not intended as medical advice but rather provides general information to educate the public. Seek immediate help if you believe you or someone on your team is suffering a heart attack or cardiac arrest.

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