Can Cold Weather Increase Heart Attack Risk?

There is a growing body of evidence that indicates the increased likelihood of suffering a heart attack or stroke during periods of cold, or extremely cold weather conditions. This is supported by data from hospital admission statistics, that the number of people admitted with heart attacks tends to increase during the winter months.  The problem is more likely to affect the elderly and those who are already suffering from the symptoms of coronary heart disease, or angina, and is backed up by several scientific studies.

Why the cold can affect the heart?

Whilst not one of the primary coronary heart disease causes, the cold weather can still cause problems for the heart and the circulation, when the temperature dives, or for existing sufferers can exacerbate the symptoms of a heart problem. Why?

The blood tends to thicken in cold weather

Very cold weather may cause changes to the thickness of the blood by activating blood platelets, which means that a person has an increased risk of developing blood clots when their blood is cold.

If the person already has arteries which are clogged with cholesterol, high levels of saturated fat, and narrowed through atherosclerosis, this additional blood thickening may be enough to tip the balance and trigger a clotting related heart attack or stroke.

People tend to exert themselves more in cold weather

Most harsh winter weather increases a person’s risk of heart attack due to over exertion. There is a double whammy of physical exertion combined with the effects of the cold on their body. How many of us have gone charging out into the yard to shovel away the snow, when we usually lead physically inactive lifestyles? Most folks are just not conditioned to the physical stress associated with this type of heart exercise and don’t recognise the dangers of being outdoors in cold weather. (This applies equally to Winter sports fans who do not take proper precautions).

Extremely cold weather may also affect the heart by increasing the heart rate and raising the blood pressure. The combined cold and extra strain on the heart causes the increased risk of heart attack. People with coranary heart disease often suffer heart chest pain or discomfort, called angina pectoris when they are exposed to cold weather. Many people with high risk factors may be unable to differentiate between muscular chest pain, and angina symptoms, as both types of chest pain may be related to over exertion.

There is a greater risk of developing hypothermia in cold weather

Hypothermia is a life threatening condition where the body temperature falls well below normal – typically below 95 degress fahrenheit or 35 degrees centigrade, and requires emergency medical treatment. Symptoms of hypothermia include shivering, lack of coordination, mental confusion, slow reactions and sleepiness. It occurs when the body cannot produce enough energy to keep the internal core temperature sufficiently high. Heart failure is the most common form of coronary problem caused by hypothermia. Although Hypothermia can affect people of all ages, elderly people and children are most vulnerable as their ability to maintain a normal internal body temperature is reduced. Many older people are not aware that they are becoming hypothermic, so it is especially important to check on elderly relatives and friends during extended periods of cold weather.

How to protect yourself against heart attack and stroke during cold weather

Extreme Cold health protection begins with knowing the risks, and taking appropriate precautions! If you go out in cold weather, wrap up warm and wear several layers of clothing as this traps air between layers, forming a protective insulation. Also, wear a hat, as much of the body’s heat is lost through the head. Keep your hands and feet warm too, as they can lose heat quickly. If you have a heart problem and are outside in cold weather, you should avoid sudden exertion – for example, shovelling snow or pushing a car.  Even walking through heavy, wet snow or snow drifts can strain a person’s heart.In extremely cold weather it may be advisable to stay indoors and keep warm. Don’t drink alcoholic beverages before going outdoors or when outside.

Alcohol gives an initial feeling of warmth, because blood vessels in the skin expand.  Heat is then drawn away from the body’s vital organs. Implement a heart healthy diet. The advantages of a heart diet cannot be over emphasised. This is a special tip – if you try one of our delicious spicy authentic recipes – Chinese, Asian or Italian – which are specially modified and packed with heart healthy ingredients, you can get the immediate benefit of a hot spicy meal combined with the longer term benefits of thinner blood, improved circulation and reduced cholesterol.   It is always a good idea to consult your doctor if you have any concerns about extremes of temperature or have plans to travel to a country with a cold climate.

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