Stroke Risk and Winter Weather

From snowstorms to increasingly short days, there are plenty of reasons to dislike winter. Likewise, evidence suggests that increased stroke risk could be another drawback associated with the winter months.

Tracking the Dew Point

For a recent report, researchers from the Yale School of Public Health sought to measure the impact of cold weather on stroke risk. They focused on roughly 135,000 Americans admitted to US hospitals 2009 and 2010. Additionally, the study reviewed temperature and dew points recordings from this time period.

Upon analyzing this data, the authors found that stroke hospitalization risk rose concurrently with the recorded average dew point. By the same token, warmer temperatures appeared to suppress stroke risk among the subjects. For every 5 degree increase in temperature, the stroke risk for the hospital admissions declined by 3 percent.

So what could explain this apparent connection between stroke risk and weather? Dr. Andrew Stemer, a neurologist at Georgetown University, contends that the answer to this question involves the reaction of human blood vessels to chilly temperatures. Under such conditions, our blood vessels tighten and constrict, impeding the movement of blood through the circulatory system. Consequently, the body’s blood pressure increases, thereby increasing the likelihood of stroke.

Facts About Stroke

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides the following information regarding the threat of stroke in the United States:

About 5 percent of annual deaths in the United States – some 140,000 people – can be attributed to stroke.

  • It is estimated that, on a yearly basis, more than 795,000 Americans suffer a stroke.
  • Of the above figure, one in four stroke victims have a previous history of stroke.
  • A person’s risk of stroke largely depends on their age. Of all of those hospitalized for stroke in 2009, more than a third were senior citizens.
  • In terms of cause of death, stroke is the fifth leading killer in the United States, though stroke mortality risk varies based on race.
  • When health care service costs, medications and missed productivity are all taken into account, stroke costs the United States roughly $34 billion each year.

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