For the more than 30 million Americans living with heart disease, the cold weather months can pose a significant health risk.
Cold temperatures affect the body in numerous ways. There’s a considerable amount of stress added to the heart to keep the body’s muscles, tissues and organs warm and oxygenated in the winter.
Increased stress on the heart
A drop in temperature can cause the blood vessels to constrict and become narrower. Which means when it’s cold outside, the heart must work harder to pump blood throughout the body.
This can also contribute to:
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
- Thickening of the blood
The added stress on the heart can increase the risk of heart issues, especially for those with existing heart conditions or for older adults.
Older adults are also more at risk for hypothermia in the winter months when spending time outdoors. In addition to the circulation issues, older adults may have less subcutaneous fat and a lessened ability to sense temperature.
Signs of a heart attack
Here are the most common symptoms of a heart attack:
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Feeling weak, light-headed or faint
- Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck or back
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms or shoulders
- Shortness of breath
Other symptoms could include unusual or unexplained tiredness, nausea or vomiting.
In women, symptoms may vary. Some women may have no symptoms; others may have chest pain or discomfort, pain in the jaw neck or back, pain in the upper abdomen or back; or nausea, vomiting and fatigue.
If you notice these symptoms, call 911 immediately.
Heart safety tips for cold weather
Talk to your doctor if you have a heart condition or other health issue about how you can stay healthy and safe during the cold weather months.
Here are some general safety tips to stay safe during the cold weather months:
- If you have a heart condition or at risk for one, ask for help keeping outdoor areas clear from snow and ice. If you must shovel outdoors, dress warmly, take frequent breaks and use good form to clear snow.
- Dress in layers to trap air and insulate the body.
- Exercise indoors when possible. Talk to a health care provider before beginning any new exercise routine.
- Know the signs of a heart attack.
- Stay indoors during the cold winter months.
- Stay up to date with vaccinations to prevent against respiratory illnesses.
- When outdoors, wear a hat, sturdy shoes and gloves or mittens to keep the body warm and prevent heat loss.
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