Winter heart attack risk increases in the cold weather

By: Emily Lunardo | Heart Attack and Stroke | Wednesday, November 18, 2015 - 03:30 PM

Winter heart attack risk increases in the cold weatherSnow shoveling in the cold weather can increase heart attack risk. Not only can winter be dreadful thanks to dropping temperatures and less sunlight, but we are also forced to spend time outdoors shoveling the continuously growing pile of snow. Already a tedious task, snow shoveling can also prove to be dangerous as it increases the risk of heart attack.

Cold weather, in particular, negatively impacts your heart by increasing blood pressure and heart rate in order to keep your body warm. Furthermore, cold weather causes changes to your blood which can increase the risk of blood clots. Furthermore, the elderly are at an even higher risk for all these complications and have a higher risk of experiencing hypothermia as well.

Previous study suggests heart disease risk highest in winter

Previous study suggests heart disease risk highest in winterPrevious research has found that cardiovascular risk factors are highest in the winter months and lowest in the summer. Lead researcher, Dr. Pedro Marques-Vidal, said, “Deaths from cardiovascular disease are higher in winter and lower in summer. We decided to conduct a large scale study to see whether cardiovascular risk factors have a seasonal pattern which could explain the seasonality in deaths.”

The findings were based on cross-sectional data from 10 population based studies in seven countries. Cardiovascular risk factors were obtained from 107,090 subjects.

Blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose, body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference were compared between all seasons.

Researchers found factors like blood pressure, cholesterol and waist circumference were highest between January and February and lowest from June to August.

Dr Marques-Vidal said, “Although this difference is almost irrelevant for an individual, it is considerable for a whole population because the whole blood pressure distribution is shifted to higher values, increasing cardiovascular risk. Indeed, the impact of season on blood pressure levels might have as great an impact on cardiovascular risk as genetic markers for blood pressure. We are currently conducting a study involving 50 million deaths in 18 countries to discover whether seasonality of risk factors affects the risk of dying from myocardial infarction or stroke.

“We observed a seasonal variation in waist circumference but BMI did not change throughout the year. We have no clear explanation for this finding. Total cholesterol may increase during the winter because of changes in eating habits. There was no seasonal variation in glucose, probably because several cohorts did not collect blood samples in the fasting state. We have begun a study on seasonality of food intake which may help explain these findings.”

Cold weather and its effect on heart health

Cold weather and its effect on heart healthMany people are simply unaware that being outdoors during colder temperatures can be a real threat to health. If precautions are not taken, it can have serious health consequences. For starters, not dressing appropriately for the cold can lead to hypothermia – a condition where the body cannot produce enough energy to keep the internal body warm.

Additionally, individuals with coronary heart disease can suffer from chest pain by being out in the cold.

Cold weather also impacts your heart because it has to work harder to maintain body heat. This can lead to higher blood pressure as well as an increase in heart rate. Additionally, blood vessels become constricted in colder temperatures, which further increases blood pressure as there is less room for the blood to pass through.

Snow shoveling and the risk of heart attack

Snow shoveling is a tedious activity that unfortunately needs to occur in the winter months. Not only does it allow you to leave and enter your driveway, but clearing a path also reduces the risk of falls. Unfortunately, snow shoveling can also increase your risk of heart attack if you’re not careful.

You have to exert yourself when snow shoveling because, on average, each shovel load can weigh up to 16 pounds. If you already have underlying cardiovascular issues, it can add serious stress to your health, continuously pushing around 16 pounds over and over again. Even if you typically live a sedentary life, going out and shoveling snow can come as a real shock to your body – especially if proper form is not used.

A person with cardiovascular disease, hypertension, or even diabetes should be cautious when it comes to shoveling snow; these conditions can set you up to experience a heart attack with the added stress of snow shoveling.

Tips for protecting your heart in winter

To get through winter safely – and heart attack free – follow these tips before and while you are shoveling.

  • Tips for protecting your heart in winterKnow your own risk – speak to your doctor about any cardiovascular or health conditions that may prevent you from being able to shovel.
  • Don’t shovel snow within the first 30 minutes of awakening; many heart attacks occur in the morning.
  • Do not eat a heavy meal prior to shoveling – blood diverts to the stomach.
  • Warm-up prior to heading outside.
  • Don’t drink coffee or smoke within one hour of shoveling as they increase heart rate.
  • Use a small shovel and shovel many loads instead of trying to push away a lot at once.
  • Take your time and take breaks.
  • Avoid dehydration.
  • Dress in layers to prevent hypothermia.
  • Cover your head and neck.
  • Cover your mouth and avoid breathing in cold air.
  • Pay attention to your body and spot early signs of a cardiovascular event – dizziness, chest pain and shortness of breath.

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