The possibility of having a heart attack or stroke while hunting is higher with the combination of physical exertion, excitement and cold air constricting blood vessels, experts say.
"Many people look to hunting as a way to relax and commune with nature and if you're healthy and in good physical shape, it can be a great way to get some outdoor exercise. However, for many hunters, the extra exertion, colder temperatures and even the excitement of the hunt can add up to a deadly combination," said Dr. Gustavo Flores, a member of the American Heart Association's Emergency Cardiovascular Care committee.
"Unfortunately, every year some hunters experience heart attacks or strokes while in the woods, so it's important to recognize symptoms and to be able to take quick action," Flores said in an AHA news release.
Thinking ahead, it would be great to develop an exercise regimen and get a health checkup prior to hunting season, Flores said.
Hunting can require a lot of exertion. It might mean walking or running on hilly terrain while tracking prey. Taking the animal body back to camp or a parking site can also be exhausting.
Weather, too, has an impact, as cold air can cause blood vessels to constrict.
Seeing and connecting with a target can release hormones that increase blood pressure, causing the heart rate to spike.
"Heart attacks and strokes can happen even to people who seem in good physical shape," Flores noted.
"Listen to your body, take breaks if needed and have a plan in case of emergencies. Never hunt alone if possible and if cellphone service isn't available, use walkie-talkies to stay in touch with your hunting party. Recognizing the warning signs and seeking immediate help are key," he advised.
Heart attacks aren't always sudden and intense like on a TV show. Most start with mild pain or discomfort, such as in the center of the chest. That feeling may last more than a few minutes or it may go away and return with a feeling of pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
Symptoms can also include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
A person experiencing a heart attack can feel short of breath, even without chest discomfort. The person may break out in a cold sweat, become lightheaded or feel nauseated.
The AHA recommends using the letters F.A.S.T. to identify a stroke. This stands for face drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulty and time to call 911.
A person experiencing a stroke may have numbness or drooping in the face and an uneven smile. One arm might feel weak or numb, or drift downward when raised. Speech may be slurred. Other symptoms can include numbness in a leg, confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech, trouble seeing in one or both eyes, trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination, or a severe headache with no known cause
It's important to call 9-1-1 as soon as possible when someone is experiencing heart attack or stroke symptoms. If that’s not an option, know in advance where the closest hospital is to the hunting area and go there.
Cardiac arrest differs from a heart attack. The heart suddenly stops beating without any warning. Signs include sudden loss of responsiveness even when tapped hard or asked loudly. The person doesn't move, speak, blink or otherwise react. The person isn't breathing or is gasping for air.
If this happens, call 9-1-1 and begin CPR immediately until help arrives.
"Learning hands-only CPR is one of the best skills any hunter can have. The American Heart Association offers many local CPR classes, and even if you haven't taken a formal class, you can still save a life. It's two simple steps – call 9-1-1 and push hard and fast in the center of the chest," Flores said.
"While hunting can be a very strenuous activity, taking a few precautions and being prepared can make a difference in the safety of the experience," he noted.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on CPR.
SOURCE: American Heart Association, news release, Oct. 27, 2022