Impact of Cold Weather on Heart Health
Colorado winter is in full swing across the Front Range. This year, that means intermittent cold weather with significant snowfall interspersed between stretches of relatively warm weather.
This combination could prove dangerous for your heart. Here’s why.
Cold Weather Is Linked to Higher Heart Attack Risk
We have known for years that cold weather was linked to heart attack risk. However, in 2018 a very large study of heart attack risk related to weather conditions showed that this risk was genuine and significant. The study looked at a total of nearly 275,000 heart attack (myocardial infarction) patients in Sweden over a 15-year period. Researchers then compared the admission data for the patients to weather conditions to see if there was any connection between the two.
They found that the strongest connection between heart attacks and weather was with air temperature. When the air temperature was less than 0° C (32° F), heart attack rates were higher. When the temperature rose to 4° C (~40° F), the number of heart attacks decreased.
Why There Are More Heart Attacks in Cold Weather
It is relatively easy to identify the correlation between cold weather and increased heart attack risk. It is not as easy to determine why this would be the case. There are several possible explanations. However, the leading candidate is that cold weather causes your blood vessels to narrow (vasoconstriction). This is a well-known phenomenon, but it can be potentially deadly when it occurs in the blood vessels around your heart. Especially if your blood vessels are already partially blocked, the constriction of your blood vessels can lead to them becoming fully blocked, causing a heart attack.
How to Reduce Your Risk of Heart Attack in Winter
If you want to try to buck the trend and not become one of those suffering a heart attack over the winter, follow these tips:
- Consider getting a calcium heart score test
- Determine whether you are healthy enough for exertion in cold weather
- Take frequent breaks from cold weather activities
- Don’t use alcohol, caffeine, or nicotine before cold weather activities
- Do what you can to avoid COVID, colds, and flu
One of the most important things you can do to help avoid heart attacks is to understand just how high your risk is. One great way to do this is with a calcium heart score test, which can detect the level of calcified plaque blocking your coronary arteries.
Based on your calcium score and a consultation with your doctor, you can decide whether you’re healthy enough to be active in cold weather. This includes tasks like shoveling snow in the cold – something that has come up a lot in the last few weeks.
If you are active outside, take frequent breaks. Resting will give your heart a break from exertion, and if you’re not constantly breathing as hard, you’re taking in less cold air. It’s thought that cold air in the lungs can contribute to vasoconstriction even if your overall body temperature remains high.
Alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine can all stress your heart and increase your risks if you’re being active in the cold.
Finally, know that respiratory infections, including colds, flu, and COVID-19, can all increase your risk of heart attack. Do what you can to avoid these infections, including getting vaccinated, washing your hands regularly, and getting good sleep.
South Denver Cardiology Can Help You Avoid Heart Attacks
At South Denver Cardiology, we are dedicated to a comprehensive program of heart health. This includes lifestyle approaches like diet modification and exercise routines, as well as diagnostic testing that helps us gauge your heart attack risk. We can even perform interventional cardiology, but we’d rather do what we can to avoid that necessity.
To schedule an appointment with a heart doctor at South Denver Cardiology, please call 303-744-1065 or use our online contact form to schedule an appointment at one of our many locations in Littleton, CO or surrounding areas.
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As with any health concerns, your specific treatment program should be discussed thoroughly with your primary care physician as well as any specialists who may need to be consulted – like a cardiologist.Sign Up