Winter are very harsh for the cardiac and pulmonary patients. According to a study published in JAMA Cardiology, heart attack risk was the greatest on the when the temperature was below freezing point. There is also an increase in heart attacks by 31% in winters as compared to summers. Other studies suggest that such risk further increases if a person has had a heart attack, has underlying heart disease or is above 65 yrs. of age.

Along with the cold temperature, strong winds, snow and rain also tend to steal your body heat. Wind blows away the layer of heated air from around the body making it even more dangerous. At -1 degree Celsius in a 50 km/hr. wind, the cooling effect is -9 degrees Celsius. In a similar way the humidity in the cold weather makes the body to lose heat faster than it would do in a dry weather.

Cold weather has following effects on our body:

  1. Vasoconstriction:
    During the winters when temperature falls, the blood vessels constrict and blood flow increases to keep the body warm. This also leads to salt and water retention in the body leading to increase in total body fluid volume and cardiac output. This also results in rise in BP during winters.
  2. Lack of activity:
    In winters due to the extreme cold weather there is lack of regular physical activity. People tend to become lazy and stay away from regular walks also. In this case the heart has to pump hard in order to keep the body warm.
    Inactivity also leads to weight gain along with the salt and water retention in this season as mentioned above.
  3. Worsening of Diabetes:
    The cold weather is a stressful condition for the body. This often leads to release of stress hormone like adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones direct liver to release more glucose for energy thereby resulting in higher blood sugar levels.
    Higher blood sugar levels tend to make you feel warmer as sugar in the blood makes it hard to cool down. Cold climate can also affect the supply of your medications leading to deranged blood sugar levels.
  4. Festivals:
    Winter is the season of so many festivals. People tend to eat a lot of especially unhealthy dietary habits like junk food, high-fat goodies, sweets and alcohol during the festivals resulting in deranged blood sugar levels and dyslipidemia.
  5. Pneumonia and upper respiratory tract infections:
    According to the researchers from Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, blood levels of immune system compounds that help your body to fight infection are much higher in winters. This may have a little protective phenomenon against cold and flu but this may also increase the plaque load in the coronaries resulting in increased risk of heart attack in winters.
    The flu is more serious for the patients with existing heart disease.

Practical tips to help you during winters:

  1. Keep your body warm by wearing multiple layers of clothing. These layers will trap the air in-between creating insulation as air is a bad conductor of heat.
  2. Wear hat, gloves and socks. Heat loss is mostly from the peripheries (head, ears, hands & feet).
  3. Give frequent breaks from shoveling so as to reduce stress on heart.
  4. Keep yourself hydrated. Drink lots of warm liquids like homemade vegetable soups. Stay away from caffeinated and carbonated drinks as they tend to dehydrate the body.
  5. Prefer going for a walk during the day hours when the temperatures are little better or it is sunny.
  6. Avoid alcoholic beverages before or immediately after any physical exertion. Alcohol may give a false belief of warmth and underestimate the stress of cold on body.
  7. Be more vigilant about the cardiac symptoms (warning signs) like chest pain, chest heaviness or discomfort. Other symptoms may be like dizziness, epigastric burning, nausea, vomiting, pain in the upper part of body – arms, back, shoulders, jaw, neck or abdomen. There may also be shortness of breath.
  8. Bystander CPR: An effective bystander CPR immediately after a cardiac arrest can increase a victim’s chance of survival by 2-3 times.
  9. In case of such symptoms call an ambulance immediately. Then you can chew and swallow one 325 mg uncoated aspirin (or four 75 mg uncoated aspirin tablets) to help prevent clots from forming in your coronary arteries.
    In such a situation NEVER think of driving yourself to the hospital.
  10. Pneumococcal vaccine (influenza vaccine) is recommended before the onset of winters if you have a heart condition, asthma, diabetes or above 65 yrs. Of age.

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