Most people have heard of someone having a heart attack while shoveling snow on a cold, winter day – but have you ever wondered what the relationship between heart attacks and cold weather really is? It turns out those bone-chilling temperatures have quite an impact on your heart. A new study shows that even small temperature drops increases the risk of a heart attack. One more reason to stay warm as the cold days of winter arrive.
Heart Attacks and Cold Weather: Is There an Association?
Researchers in the U.K. compared daily temperatures in portions of England and Wales with 84,010 admissions to local hospitals where the diagnosis of a heart attack was made. Even after controlling for factors that could have altered the risk of a heart attack, they found that cold temperatures increased the chances of having a heart attack. In fact, for each 1.8 degree Fahrenheit drop in temperature, the risk of heart attack climbed by two percent.
The risk of heart attack didn’t drop immediately after escaping the cold temperatures either in this study In fact, the risk of having a heart attack remained elevated for a full 28 days after being out in the cold. As might be expected, older people and those with pre-existing heart disease were at highest risk for cold weather heart attacks.
Heart Attacks and Cold Weather: What about Heat?
The heart pumps faster on a hot day to help release heat and lower body temperature. It would seem intuitive that hot temperatures would also carry a greater risk of a heart attack. This study failed to show that heat raises the risk of heart attack, but it’s hard to draw conclusions since the U.K. rarely has very high temperatures. Previous studies show that the risk of heart attack rises in the heat, particularly when conditions are hot and humid.
Cold Weather Heart Health: Why Are Cold Weather Heart Attacks a Problem?
Cold weather causes blood vessels to clamp down, which decreases blood flow to the heart. Physical labor or exercising outdoors in the cold increases the demand for oxygen, so the heart has to work harder. This combination of tighter blood vessels and increased oxygen demand is a bad combination that can lead to a heart attack in certain individuals.
The best way to reduce the risk of a heart attack when temperatures drop is to lighten up on physical activity outdoors. If you shovel snow, stop and rest every ten minutes or so. People who are older or at high risk for heart disease are safer turning the shove over to someone else. Don’t take chances with your health or your heart when cold temperatures arrive.
Eurek Alert website. “Colder days raise the risk of more heart attacks”