Can cold weather harm your heart?
In the Midwest, people know cold weather all too well. Every winter we bundle up. But while most of us see frigid temperatures and snow as an inconvenience, winter weather can present a great danger to those with heart disease.
When the temperature drops, our body reacts in order to keep us warm. The body constricts the blood vessels, which prevents losing heat. However if the weather gets too cold, it can cause coronary issues that can lead to chest pain, says Dr. Paul Silverman, a cardiologist with Advocate Heart Institute at Trinity Hospital in Chicago.
These attacks reduce blood flow to the heart, which increases blood pressure and the risk of cardiac arrest. One study, published in the British Medical Journal, showed that a drop in temperature of 1.8 degrees caused 200 more heart attacks in the following month.
Another factor that leads to an increased demand on your heart involves snow shoveling. Together it’s been shown to lead to more cardiac deaths in winter than at any time in the year, Dr. Silverman says.
To minimize the danger that winter weather presents, the American Heart Association offers the following tips:
- Don’t just dress warm, but dress in layers. Dressing in layers is better than just wearing one heavy coat because warm air gets trapped in between the layers and acts as insulation for your body.
- Dress for the weather. As we age, our body’s ability to sense temperature worsens. It’s important to dress for the weather even if you don’t feel particularly cold.
- Don’t forget the scarf. “Wearing a scarf or a mask to cover the mouth warms the air going into your lungs, which lowers your risk,” says Silverman.
- Avoid snow shoveling altogether if you have heart health issues. “You need to consult with your doctor before you start shoveling snow. It’s best to just hire someone to do it,” says Dr. Silverman.
- Avoid alcohol before embarking into the cold. Although alcohol can make you feel warm, it increases your heart rate which combined with cold weather can be a recipe for disaster.
“The best advice is to listen to your body and just don’t overdo it,” says Dr. Silverman. “If you are doing something that is too hard, don’t push yourself too much and risk serious injury.”
About the Author
health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care sites, also including freelance or intern writers.