Each approaching blizzard brings warnings about the dangers of shoveling snow, an activity that sends thousands of Americans to emergency rooms each winter. Don’t tackle the walkway if you aren’t in good enough shape, experts said. You can get hurt or trigger a heart attack or stroke.

Medically speaking, a person is more likely to keel over while shoveling heaving snow than, say, jogging. But why?

“Physically, what happens when you get really cold is you have constriction of the blood vessels,” said Lawrence Phillips, a cardiologist at NYU Langone Medical Center. “It decreases the blood supply you’re getting to your vital organs.”

That’s bad news for people with heart problems, diabetes or high blood pressure. But just as big a problem is that many people dig in despite not having exercised in weeks or months or years. “If you haven’t been exercising and you haven’t been exerting yourself, this is not the time to start,” Phillips said. “The amount of work that goes into shoveling snow is tremendous.”

At the gym, he noted, it’s easy to hop off a treadmill when you start feeling winded or to slip out of that spin class early. But shoveling snow tends to be a “goal-oriented” activity. Call it pride, stubbornness or maybe naiveté, but men especially tend to keep at it until the job is finished — or, too often, until disaster strikes.


Intestinal birth defect is on rise

Physicians are seeing more instances of a birth defect in which infants are born with their intestines extruding from the stomach wall. The increase has been driven by a sharp rise in the defect among babies born to young black mothers, says a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Over the 18 years leading up to 2012, the CDC has documented a 263 percent increase in the birth defect among children born to young black mothers, the agency said.

Coleen Boyle, director of the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, said it was urgent that researchers find the cause of the defect and determine which women are at greater risk for having babies with the affliction.

In gastroschisis, the intestines, and sometime other visceral organs such as the liver and stomach, protrude through a hole next to a newborn’s belly button.

Though the abnormality can be life-threatening, it can often be fixed soon after birth with surgery to return the organs inside the abdomen and repair the abdominal wall. But because the affected organs are irritated by their exposure to amniotic fluid inside a mother’s uterus, they can twist, swell, shorten and become infected.

As a result, babies born with the defect can have ongoing digestive and feeding problems.

Associated Press