Heart attack frequency increases in cold weather

Monday, January 6, 2014
(Contributed image)

Winter time may increase the chances of suffering a heart attack. According to research, each 1.8 degree of temperature reduction on a single day has been linked to a rise of nearly 200 heart attacks.

Winter is the most common time for heart attacks to occur. Research has shown there are 53 percent more heart attacks in the winter than during the summer months, and twice as many heart attacks a day in January compared to July.

The signs that show a person is most at risk for heart attack include people with the following risk factors: high blood pressure, smokers, stress, consumption of excessive amounts of alcohol, obesity or 30 pounds or more overweight, diets which are high in saturated fats and type II diabetics.

One of the most common times a heart attack can occur is when shoveling snow. Snow shoveling puts stressors on the body due to physical exertion, as well as dealing with cold temperatures.

Common symptoms of a heart attack include pressure, tightness or pain in the chest or arms, nausea, indigestion or abdominal pain, shortness of breath, cold sweats, anxiety, fatigue and trouble sleeping.

Cold temperatures can cause heart attacks by causing a rise in blood pressure along with increased levels of protein in the blood which can raise the risk of blood clots. During cold weather, the heart must work harder to produce body heat, and the arteries begin to tighten. This can reduce blood flow and the oxygen supply to the heart. These factors could trigger a heart attack in the elderly or those with existing heart problems.

Another issue that can occur is hypothermia, which is a condition during which the body temperature falls below normal. Heart failure is often the leading cause of death in cases of hypothermia. To protect against hypothermia, if you must be out in the cold, wear warm, dry clothing such as gloves, a hat and sweater or jacket.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, another possible cause of heart attacks during winter is a lack of sunlight. Because exposure to direct sunlight is diminished during winter months with fewer hours of daylight and fewer outside activities, it can be difficult to maintain high enough levels of Vitamin D. In the Unites States, the late winter average for Vitamin D absorption from the sun is only around 15-18 mg/ml, which is a serious deficiency. It is estimated that more than 95 percent of senior citizens may be deficient in Vitamin D, along with 85 percent of the general public.

Vitamin D can help provide physiological mechanisms through sunlight exposure that can help fight heart disease, such as increasing the body's natural anti-inflammatory cytokines, suppressing vascular calcification and inhabiting vascular smooth muscle growth.