Canonsburg General Hospital offers talks about winter health and safety

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With winter now beginning to take hold, Canonsburg General Hospital is helping make sure that people don't get left out in the cold, at least when it comes to their health.

"Are You Winter Ready," a series of talks by physician specialists, will be offered from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Outpatient Care Center, 160 Gallery Drive, Peters. The event is free, but -- because space is limited -- attendees are requested to register in advance at 412-330-4469.

"The idea for the doc talks came up during a conversation I had with a physician liaison," said Patty Toner, the hospital's community marketing manager. "We noted that people winterize their homes, cars and gardens, but sometimes don't properly prepare their bodies and minds for the long winter season. So we decided to gather some of our medical experts to offer tips and suggestions in their area of specialty."

Three doctors associated with Canonsburg Hospital will speak on a different subject, followed by a short question-and-answer session.

Scott Schweizer is a orthopedics and sports medicine specialist who will discuss "Before You Shovel: Understanding Proper Back and Joint Care."

"Winter is the worst season for stress on the body," he said. "Many people are out of shape and attempt to do strenuous work such as shoveling snow and ice."

Before starting outdoor work in winter, Dr. Schweizer suggests dressing warmly and keeping hydrated. When shoveling snow, he recommends starting early, when the snow build-up is not all that great. Those experiencing chest pain or shortness of breath should stop immediately; those really out of shape might be better off hiring someone to do the job.

A study by the U.S. Consumer Product and Safety Commission reveals that in 2009, 16,500 people visited hospital emergency rooms across the nation specifically for problems such as sprains and strains to the back and shoulders that arose during snow and ice removal. Another 6,000 suffered cut fingers and even amputations while improperly using a snow blower.

"In my office in the winter, I see a lot of people with broken bones, torn rotator cuffs and lingering sprains and strains who've slipped and fallen," he said. "There's a lot that can go wrong when people work outdoors on snow and ice."

Family practitioner Dinesha Weerasinghe will present "The Myths and Facts about the Common Cold and the Flu." Her talk will cover the difference between cold and flu symptoms, who may be at high risk for illness, alleviating symptoms, the possible efficacy of vitamin C in combatting the diseases, and the importance of frequent hand washing.

"In my practice, I see a lot of patients with a cold or the flu," she said. "Many people who come in with a cold or flu ask for antibiotics, but they are only effective against bacterial infections not viral infections like the flu. The best prevention is getting an annual flu shot."

In a talk titled "Is Winter Stressing Your Heart," Travis Wilson, an interventionist cardiologist, will discuss how winter and its low temperatures increase the risk of heart attack.

"On a physiological level, when the body is cold, it tries to stay warm by constricting your blood vessels," he said. "This increases your blood pressure, which can lead to a heart attack."

He advises when doing heavy physical activities like shoveling snow to do it in short spurts with small breaks in between and pay attention to symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath and lightheadedness. Keep in mind that downhill and cross-country skiing taxes the body, especially for those out of shape. For those unaccustomed to hard physical activity, he advises having a conversation with a doctor.

"Know and listen to your body," he said. "A little common sense goes a long way."

To register: 412-330-4469.

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Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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