CLEVELAND (WJW) – As northeast Ohioans try to dig themselves out of a thick blanket of snow, emergency departments are prepared to see a potential increase in heart attack patients. 

“We do see an increase this time of year and it’s really twofold. It’s the cold weather, the heavy snow. You have people who typically don’t exercise much but they feel the imperative to get their car out or to shovel their walk or something like that,” said Dr. Baruch Fertel, Director of Operations for the Cleveland Clinic‘s emergency departments.

Certain demographics, he says, are more at risk. 

“I think the most common group that we see it in is older folks, certainly people over 55, people with pre-existing medical conditions, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, vascular disease, smokers,” he said.

Fertel says young healthy people shouldn’t have a problem, but it’s good to warm up and gradually increase your level of activity to see how much you can tolerate. 

“If you develop fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain — good idea to stop. Making sure you’re appropriately dressed in layers would be really helpful in this kind of weather, and making sure one is hydrated,” Fertel said.

Despite a high COVID case rate, Fertel says they are prepared for any increase in patients from weather-related injuries or illnesses. 

“Our emergency departments are fully staffed. This is what we do, this is what we train for. We’re ready and able to take care of anybody who needs help,” he said.

The W.O. Walker testing site in University Circle, which was closed Monday due to the weather, has relieved some of the strain EDs were seeing.

“I think the community has been doing a really good job at utilizing the emergency department for emergencies and things like testing, going to the alternative locations and hopefully we’re starting to turn the corner right now and we’ll be able to take care of all those who need us,” Fertel said.

And it’s possible paying attention to heart attack symptoms could reveal something else. 

“We’ve seen people who just felt weak and kind of little vague shortness of breath and then they came in for another reason or for that and we found them to have COVID,” he said.