SEATTLE - Thousands of hunters are in the woods and fields of Washington this month, and the American Heart Association is encouraging them to be 'heart smart' as well as safe with their firearms and bows.
An estimated 5.5 percent of people in Washington have heart disease, and the combination of the physical activity and excitement of the hunt, plus conditions like weather and altitude, can be strenuous. Cardiologist Dr. Bob Oatfield says hunters need to be aware of heart attack symptoms.
"The single biggest thing for most men is going to be chest heaviness, tightness or just discomfort. It may radiate into the neck or the arms, although of all of the places it radiates, that which is most significant usually is the neck."
Another health issue to watch for is a stroke. Warning signs include slurred speech, sudden dizziness and weakness in the face, arm or leg. The people at greatest risk, he adds, include those who don't get regular physical activity and those who smoke.
"Because that increases the carbon monoxide in our blood and decreases the delivery of oxygen, and so you're working much harder to get to the same point as somebody who is a nonsmoker. The second major issues is diabetes. We work under a paradigm now that all diabetics have coronary disease, irrespective of age."
Oatfield says if you have any symptoms of stroke or heart attack, call 9-1-1 immediately. Since most hunts involve being off the beaten path and away from quick medical help, he suggests always hunting with a friend or a group.
"In some ways, it's kind of like swimming. You really should always have buddy with you, somebody who you can look out for them and they can look out for you. And a way of mitigating that a little bit if you do hunt alone is to have a cell phone, which is a good idea for everybody."
In a 2007 study, 25 middle-aged hunters were fitted with heart monitors, and researchers found that all but three had higher heart rates in the field than their maximums in treadmill tests. Some doctors recommend hunters also carry an uncoated aspirin tablet and wear a heart monitor.