Can cold weather trigger heart ailments?

Can cold weather trigger heart ailments?

What's the relation between cold weather and heart health?

Cold weather makes our heart work harder to keep our body warm, so the heart rate and blood pressure may increase.

Research has shown that 1°C drop in temperature on a single day is associated with around 200 additional heart attacks; and incidences of heart attacks increase by 53% in winter. The highest risk of a cold-induced cardiovascular risk is just hours or days after exposure to cold.

Cold weather makes our heart work harder to keep our body warm, so the heart rate and blood pressure may increase. These changes can cause heart problems, especially if someone already has a heart condition. The cold can also cause changes to blood circulation that may increase the risk of developing blood clots, which could lead to a heart attack or stroke. Sudden changes in temperature cause thermal stress for the body, which has to work harder to maintain its constant temperature.

When our body can no longer produce enough energy to keep itself warm and the temperature has dropped below 35°C, hypothermia sets in. Children and senior citizens are especially at a higher risk because they have lower levels of subcutaneous fat and may not be as aware of temperature levels as others.

During winter, the chance of catching the flu increases. Flu can be more serious for people with heart conditions as it makes the heart work much harder. In fact, people with heart diseases are more prone to get the flu than people with any other long-term chronic illness. Viral infections like the flu also put additional stress on the body, which can affect blood pressure, heart rate, and overall heart function. That can raise the odds of having a heart attack or stroke. 

How can we protect ourselves against the cold?

There are many things we can do to stay warm and keep ourselves safe from the cold weather:

• Keeping the house warm and staying indoors and by keeping the temperature at least 18°C (65°F); and using a hot water bottle or an electric blanket to keep warm in bed.

• Staying active indoors to keep the body warm. Make it a habit to get up and move around at least once an hour and avoid sitting still for long periods. 

• Having regular hot meals and drinks to give the body adequate energy.

• Wrapping up warm in layers of clothing. Wearing a few thin layers can help keep you a lot more warmer than one thick layer. A lot of heat is lost from our head, so wearing a hat and scarf when going outside is necessary.