Heart Problems in Winter Season
Everyone knows winter is cold and flu season, but most people don’t know that it is also the prime season for heart attacks too. If reports are to be believed, the chances of cardiac arrest increase by more than one fifth during winter season. In the United States, the risk of having a heart attack during the winter months is twice as high as in the summer time. And, a heart attack in the winter is also more likely to be fatal than a heart attack during summertime.
Why? Lots of reasons, and they’re not all tied to cold weather.
Here are some reasons why heart attacks are more common during the winter than other months and some tips to help you combat them:
• Cold weather: When a person is exposed to cold, the body’s automatic response is to narrow the blood vessels. Cutting down on blood flow to the skin means the body doesn’t lose as much heat. But for people who already have arteries filled with plaque, the narrowing of the blood vessels in response to exposure to cold increases the risk that artery will get blocked, triggering a heart attack.
The narrowing also increases blood pressure, which can strain a diseased heart. So bundle up this winter, and keep your blood flowing freely.
• Snow shoveling: Believe it or not, studies show that heart attack rates jump dramatically in the first few days after a major snowstorm, usually a result of snow shoveling. Shoveling snow is incredibly strenuous causing the heart to work harder and raising your blood pressure. Couple that with the cold temperatures and heart attack risk soars.
• New Year’s resolutions: It’s not just shovelers who run the risk of taxing their heart in the winter. Every Jan. 1, millions of people join gyms or start exercise programs as part of their New Year’s resolution to get in shape, and many may overexert themselves too soon. If you have a heart condition or risk factors for heart disease like high cholesterol and high blood pressure, talk to your doctor about what may be appropriate for you.
• Stressful season: The winter season for many people is a very stressful time, causing anxiety, loneliness and depression which are also linked to heart attacks.
• Holiday feasting: People tend to eat more, drink more, and gain more weight during the holiday season and winter months – all of which are hard on the ticker and risky for someone with heart disease. Keep a watchful eye on your diet, avoid binging on fatty foods or alcohol, and remember everything in moderation!
• Less daylight: It’s a fact that less daylight in the winter can worsen mood problems, increase risk of depression and can also affect the heart; decreased sunlight decreases release of serotonin and melatonin, the neurotransmitters which elevate the mood. Studies have looked at heart-attack patients and found that they have lower levels of vitamin D (which comes from sunlight) than healthy people. To boost your vitamin D intake during the dark winter months, everyone over 50 should take a daily vitamin that contains at least 400 IU (international units) of vitamin D. Those over age 70 need at least 600 IU.
• Flu: The flu is another culprit responsible for the winter surge in heart attacks. A flu infection can increase blood pressure, stir up white blood cell activity, and change C-reactive protein and fibrinogen levels in the blood – all bad news for your heart. Get an annual flu shot. It can cut your heart attack risk to half.
Tips to protect yourself in winter season
The first and foremost thing is that you to try keep your body warm. Do not expose your body to low temperature. That means, you have to have sufficient clothes that keep you warm, whether you are sitting inside your house or roaming outdoors.
Heart patients are especially advised not to roam in rough, cold and windy weather. If you had recently faced any heart related problems, you should try to stay indoors. Nevertheless, do not switch from cold to warm temperature and vice versa.
Many people just turn on room heaters and then move out of the room to a place that is quiet cold and bleak. This can be dangerous for people who are prone to heart attacks and are advised by the doctor to take all necessary measures to ensure proper heart care. Take advice from your doctor especially keeping winter season in mind.
Dr. Prashant Upasani
(Senior Consultant Cardiologist Cardiology)
MD, DM, FCCP, FCSI, FESC, MACC, MAHA
Senior Consultant Cardiologist