Hunting and heart attacks

Posted by Anthony Furlano, D.O.
October 13, 2016

hearthuntingIt’s still dark outside; the weather is bitter and cold. It’s the perfect day to get together with good friends, reflect on life, walk the countryside, and bring home that trophy buck or prize pheasant. You’re fully prepared this year; your scope is right on, you’ve scouted out the perfect spot for your stand and you’ve been punching paper targets for months. But is your body ready?

Like any sport, hunting requires the participants to train, focus, and be mentally and physically fit for the activity required. When hunters aren’t in shape, their trips can sometimes end in tragedy. Hunting may be the most demanding physical exertion some hunters experience all year.

Dragging a heavy deer through the snow or brush can be exceptionally stressful on the heart. Studies show that excitement of sighting a deer can send a hunter’s heart rate soaring. This excitement, combined with strenuous hunting activity, can put a physically unfit hunter at risk of a heart attack.

Knowing the warning signs of a heart attack can help alleviate the severity of the attack. Many people fail to recognize a heart attack because the symptoms can be vague and easy to pass off as a less serious problem. Knowing the signs allows you to act fast.

A heart attack does not always produce a giant, immobilizing pain or a sharp stabbing pain. The body sends signals that the heart is starving for oxygen by these warning signals:

  • An uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing or pain in the center of the chest for more than two minutes.
  • Chest pain that spreads to the shoulders, neck, or arms
  • Dizziness, fainting, sweating, nausea and shortness of breath may also occur.

Sometimes these signals may subside only to return later, possibly with greater discomfort and danger. The American Heart Association recommends that anyone experiencing chest pain and discomfort for two minutes or more should call 911 or go to a hospital immediately. Expect the person to deny the possibility of having a heart attack, but insist on prompt action. Do not ignore any warning signal, act immediately!

Before your trip, find out which hospitals provide 24-hour service in the area you will be hunting. Select the nearest facility in advance, so there will be no delay in finding a hospital. Inform your family and friends so they know where to go in case of an emergency. Don’t worry about a false alarm, just get to the hospital. Reacting quickly could save your life as you have only a couple of hours to save that heart muscle.

Smoking, family history, diabetes, obesity, and high cholesterol could all be a cause to a heart attack. Now is the best time to get a check up from your doctor so you know if you’re ready and what you can do to prepare. In addition to giving you a heart risk assessment, physicians can also give advice on exercise programs to get you ready for dragging out that buck or for those long prairie walks seeking the elusive pheasant.

Anthony Furlano, D.O., is a family physician at Mayo Clinic Heath System - Franciscan Healthcare Family Health Clinic in La Crosse, Wis.

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