Heart Attacks and Winter Chills: What You Need to Know

There are plenty of reasons to hate the winter season. In many parts of the United States, winter is synonymous with bitterly cold temperatures and endless amounts of snow. Aside from these common complaints, winter can also prove damaging to one of the body’s most important parts – the heart. 

What the Research Says

During the winter months, heart attacks risk tends to rise among the general population. Consider that one study, published in the July 2013 issue of the journal Hypertension, found a 2 percent increase in heart attack risk for every 1°C drop in temperature. This wasn’t the only report to find that cold temperatures can harm the heart; about two years later, a separate research team found that heart attack frequency soared by 31 percent during the chilliest months of the year. 

It is worth noting that cold spells tend to be especially challenging for certain demographic groups; specifically, studies have concluded that seniors, those with a history of heart attack and people with heart disease could be especially susceptible to winter heart attacks. 

Possible Explanations

The exact reasons for this remains unclear; some researchers note that frigid temperatures increase blood pressure and cholesterol, which can in turn induce heart attacks. Another possible culprit could be the body’s own circulatory system. When confronted with cold temperatures, our blood vessels tighten as blood passes through them at an accelerated pace. 

Some doctors believe that the immune system may bear some responsibility. In the harsh winter weather, the body’s defenses release compounds as a way of warding off hazardous invaders. However, this might have the unintended consequence of jamming more plaque to to the heart’s arteries, thereby increasing the risk of a future heart attack.

Thinking Smart 

So what can you do to protect your heart in the middle of winter? The following guidelines can keep your heart running smoothly:

  • Be conscientious about your amount of physical exertion. Many people suffer a heart attack after overtaxing their body.
  • This one is obvious, but bundle up! Your blood vessels will thank you.
  • If you take medication for blood pressure, make sure to take them. You might find it helpful to stock up on such medicines at the onset of winter, as snow and ice can make driving difficult, if not impossible.
  • Eliminate influenza germs by washing your hands with soap and water on a regular basis. These microscopic pests can trigger a fever, potentially putting the heart in danger.

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