‘Tis the season to be jolly and safe


In some ways, people are more mindful of their general health during the cold weather seasons. They may get flu shots. They make sure their hair is dry after washing before venturing outside. They buy winter coats.

What they don’t realize is they also need to “bundle up” against heart attacks. Why? There are more heart attacks during winter than any other season. Comprehending why will also help you understand more about your body.

ramin manshadi

In cold weather, there is more oxygen demand by the heart because it is working harder to do the work while maintain body heat.  Each 1.8 degree Fahrenheit reduction in temperature on a single day has been linked to about 200 additional heart attacks.

A report in the Dec. 13, 2004 issue of Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association found that the rate of cardiovascular-related deaths  rose sharply between Dec. 25 and Jan. 7.

The greatest risk came within two weeks of cold-weather exposure. Those aged 75-84, along with those with coronary heart disease, were most vulnerable to temperature changes.

Your body has an intriguing response mechanism to deal with cold. The goal is to keep the core of your body at 98.6 degrees. One of the ways your body does this is by constricting blood vessels to limit the loss of body heat. That does help, but it also raises blood pressure and lowers the amount of blood flowing to your heart and other organs.

If you are being active at the same time, this can put a significant demand on your heart.  If you already have heart disease, it may be too much and cause a heart attack. That’s why you hear warnings about the high risks of coronary while shoveling snow.

Another factor that can increase the risk of heart attack during the winter season is the potential of contracting flu. We know that inflammation can trigger a heart attack and the flu triggers inflammation.  In turn, inflammation can make arterial plaque less stable, and they may dislodge, block arteries and contribute to a heart attack.

But a flu shot can lower the risk of heart attack. People at high risk for the flu, including people older than 65 and those with cardiovascular risk factors should make sure to get the shot.

So how might you protect yourself? If you have snow to shovel, you can hire someone to do it for you — hopefully someone at less risk. Yes, there’s cost involved, but it’s certainly minor compared to chancing a heart attack.  

If you do go outside, make doubly sure you are warmly clothed so your blood vessels have less tendency to contract in order to preserve heat. Cover your head, hands — all that you can.  

If you are shoveling, don’t try to do too much at one time. Take frequent breaks. Remember snow is heavy. Not so much when hurling a snowball, but much more when shoveling. Also, be sure to stretch and warm up your body before going out so your activity puts less strain on you.

When shoveling, be alert. Symptoms of a heart attack can seem similar for those for a pulled muscle, including squeezing or other pains in your chest area or pain in your arms, back or neck. They can also include shortness of breath, sweating or nausea.  

Pay extra attention to any warning signs after shoveling too. If you feel chest pain, always take an aspirin immediately as this can dramatically decrease chances of dying from a heart attack.  Any size aspirin will do, though if there is an acute sign of heart attack it is the best to chew 325 mg of aspirin (a full strength aspirin).   

Enjoy your winter holiday season and be safe.

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