Hunters: Don’t let buck fever be a heart hazard

Wednesday, October 7, 2009 — Each year during hunting season, some hunters fall prey to heart attack. Dr. Paula Miller, a cardiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, explains what hunters can do to prevent this.

Written by Margot Carmichael Lester for UNC Health Care

If you’re a hunter, you probably invest a lot of time getting your gun or bow ready for hunting season. But don’t forget to make time to get your heart ready, too, because the increased activity could put you – not your quarry – at risk.

For most hunters, heart-attack danger lies in excessive exertion – like walking up hills or long distances, climbing into a deer stand or running quickly. When you feel winded, it may be due to the heart being deprived of oxygen, causing the heart muscle to become injured and not pump appropriately. If you’re healthy and you slow down, you can recover easily. But if you’re not – because you have cardiovascular disease or aren’t in good shape – this situation can cause a lethal heart problem.

Flushing the Risk

The best way to avoid cardiovascular disease – including heart attacks – is to have a healthy lifestyle that includes eating well and getting regular exercise and check-ups. It’s also important to know your numbers as well as you know your hunting quotas. Here are suggested levels, according to Paula Miller, M.D., a cardiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine:

  • Total Cholesterol: Goal is less than 200
  • HDL: Goal is greater than 40 and ideally greater than 60 (subtracts one risk factor if you are over 60)
  • LDL: Depends on risk factor profile: 0-1 risk factor = <160; 2 risk factors = less than 130 ; greater than 2 risk factors or if you have known coronary artery disease = less than 100; if you are diabetic, less than 70.
  • Triglycerides: Goal is less than 150
  • Blood Pressure: General population, less than 135/less than,85; diabetic population: less than 130/less than 80
  • Glucose: Less than 110 fasting blood sugar
  • Weight: Body mass index less than 25.5 for women, less than 26.5 for men; waist should be less than 35 inches for women and less than 40 inches for men

“If you smoke, you need to stop,” Miller advises. “And if you have hypertension – coronary artery disease, diabetes, etc. – take your medicine appropriately and follow your doctor’s instructions.”

If you don’t see your physician regularly, or you have any of these risk factors, it’s a good idea to check in with your physician before you head to the woods this season.

Start Training

It may sound silly, but a little conditioning goes a long way to avoiding heart problems on the hunt.

“Regular exercise conditions the heart and enables you to better withstand strenuous activity,” Miller says. Start slowly, working up to regular aerobic activity three times a week for at least 30 minutes. “If you can’t get regular exercise, try for a goal of 10,000 steps a day.”

Warning Signs

Paying attention to your body’s response to prolonged or bursts of activity can help you avoid a worst-case scenario. If you feel you’re struggling to keep up or develop chest pains, you should stop immediately.

“The classic symptoms are chest pain associated with shortness of breath, nausea and/or vomiting, sweating, feeling faint and possibly a feeling of doom,” Miller explains. “These generally occur with activity and get better with rest. Hunters may experience some or all of the symptoms. Many people minimize or ignore the early symptoms. You should not.”

Preventing the Worst

If you or your hunting partner experiences any of these symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately. Keep some full-strength aspirin – 325 mg – in your gear bag, and if you/your friend isn’t allergic, chew one when the symptoms start. Proceed with as little exertion as possible.

“It is never good to hunt alone and heart attack is one of the reasons,” Miller says. “If the victim is in cardiac arrest – isn’t breathing and has no pulse – CPR should be started immediately. All hunters who may hunt in remote areas should learn basic CPR.”

Every great hunting outing starts with good preparation. This season, make sure you’re in as good shape as your gear.

 

Media contact: Tom Hughes, (919) 966-6047, tahughes@unch.unc.edu

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