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Winter & Cardiovascular Diseases - Causes & Prevention

Winter & Cardiovascular Diseases - Causes & Prevention
  • Jan 10
  • Cardiology

Overview

The onset of winter can evoke mixed reactions; some people welcome the cold weather while others dread struggling through the brutal winter weather. While most people worry about catching the flu or getting frostbite, there’s another cause of concern which many people might not even be aware of. Cold weather conditions can result in the blood vessels getting constricted which can raise blood pressure thus increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. As a matter of fact, as per a study published in Circulation, the chances of a person suffering from heart attacks goes up by nearly 33 percent during winter. Although most people take adequate precautions by shielding themselves from the common lifestyle risk factors such as poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption etc. – little do they realize that winter can cause inadvertent damage to the heart without even noticing it.

Needless to say, it is imperative that people take adequate care to stay warm during the winter. Elders specifically tend to be vulnerable during these cold months as the cold can cause a dramatic drop in their body temperature thus leading to hypothermia. If the body temperature dips under 95 degrees, the resulting hypothermia can cause severe damage to the heart muscle. Further, patients afflicted with Angina need to be particularly careful as the cold weather can result in the when coronary arteries getting constricted. Certain individuals are at a higher risk of getting a heart attack including those who have had a prior history of heart attacks, who suffer from heart diseases, have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, smokers, and those individuals who lead a sedentary lifestyle.

Symptoms 

Knowing that the risk for a heart attack is greater in the winter, it’s wise to stay alert and look out for subtle symptoms that might point to having one.

  • Acute chest pain – especially in male patients
  • Nausea or dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Upper-body pain radiating around the arms, back, shoulders, neck, jaw, or abdomen
  • Shortness of breath;
  • Tightness or a feeling of discomfort or fullness in the center of the chest

Women, in particular, have to stay vigilant as the symptoms can present a little differently leading them to disregard the warning signs. Hence, it’s vital that they always stay alert to any possible signs, even if they experience atypical symptoms.

Causes

Here are some causes which could inadvertently lead to a heart attack during winter:

  • Winter can cause people to overexert. Whether it’s walking briskly against a strong wind or shoveling the walkway, exertion can lead to an increased demand for oxygen by the heart thus causing additional stress to the heart. Moreover, in case the person already has any pre-existing blockages in their arteries, it could lead to a reduced flow of oxygen to their heart thus triggering a heart attack.
  • When the body is exposed to cold temperatures, especially after waking up, the blood is prone to clotting which could lead to a heart attack.
  • People already at risk for heart attacks need to be particularly wary of getting the flu or a cold. Contracting either of those can result in a fever which increases the heart beats of the affected person. An increase in the heartbeats can lead to an increase in the demand for oxygen and when there’s inadequate supply to the heart, the result is a crippling heart attack.
  • Another startling cause for worry is overheating. Though keeping warm is essential, by adding on layers of warm clothing or indulging in too much physical activity can result in the blood vessels getting dilated. This, in turn, can cause a dramatic drop in the blood pressure thus reducing the blood supply to the heart invariably causing a cardiac arrest.
  • If an individual skip on certain medications owing to missed doctor visits or a visit to the nearby pharmacy owing to the cold weather conditions outside, chances are that blood pressure can spiral out of control. This can increase the chances of getting a heart attack.

Prevention

  1. Eating Healthy: Incorporating heart-healthy foods in the diet goes a long way in ensuring that the heart`s health is not compromised. Food such as fruits and vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains, fatty-fish (salmon, sardines et al), nuts, legumes, and seeds are loaded with heart-healthy nutrients which should be included in the daily diet. One should also try and avoid foods loaded with saturated fat, trans fat, sodium and cholesterol as it can ultimately lead to unnecessary strain on the heart in the long run. Further, limiting the intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and avoiding red meat altogether is a great way of maintaining optimum cardiovascular health during this season.
  2. Staying Active: Regular exercise is a great way of keeping the body balanced and the heart in top shape. Individuals should try and make small changes in their daily routine as it can bode well in the long run. As the cold weather might not be feasible for exercising or playing sports in the open, one should compensate by taking the stairs instead of using the elevator, playing indoor sports such as table-tennis or any other activity that can keep themselves physically active.
  3. Getting Enough Sleep: Getting sleep is crucial because it helps regenerate the body while stabilizing energy and appetite levels the next day. As per data released by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, (NHLBI), it’s recommended that an individual should get at least 7 – 8 hours of sleep daily as it has the ability to optimize both mental and physical energy levels. Another point that should be mentioned that if an individual suffers from sleep apnea, a serious sleep disorder, he/she should make it a point to get it checked immediately as it is linked to heart disease and arrhythmias.
  4. Dressing for the weather: People should avoid heading out the door half-dressed at all costs. It’s vital that people cover up themselves by wearing layers of clothing especially a coat, hats, gloves and heavy socks to avoid hypothermia (low body temperature). Since a lot of heat gets lost from the head, it’s also recommended to wear a scarf and/or a hat before stepping outside.
  5. Avoiding the outdoors: One should try and avoid staying outside as much as possible. Staying indoors will help in regulating body temperatures and in keeping warm.
  6. Avoiding excess alcohol consumption: While alcohol can help in keeping the body warm on the inside, excessive consumption should be avoided as it can also elevate the blood pressure and heart rate. Instead one can opt for regular hot meals and drinks such as hot chocolate that can give the body the energy it requires for staying warm on the inside. Dehydration should also be avoided by drinking plenty of fluids or consuming water-rich foods such as soups, vegetables, fruits etc.
  7. Washing hands frequently: It has been long known that respiratory infections can increase the chances of getting a heart attack. One should avoid such scenarios by washing hands regularly with soap and water. Additionally, if any flu symptoms are noticeable such as a fever, a viral cough, or body aches, immediate steps should be taken to consult a doctor for a flu shot or antiviral medication.

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