Every year in the U.S., roughly 700,000 people have a heart attack and nearly 800,000 experience a stroke. Unfortunately, one-sixth of those cases will be fatal, and your risk increases in the cold weather months. While there is no consensus on why this occurs, there are ways you can help reduce your heart attack risk and risk of stroke this winter.
Come in from the cold
Cold weather can cause your blood vessels to become narrower, which makes it even harder for your body to pump blood to your heart. This added exertion can manifest as high blood pressure, which can raise your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. This is especially true if you also have other risk factors, such as high cholesterol, diabetes or an unhealthy weight.
Combined with cold weather, overexerting yourself by performing activities like shoveling snow —when more oxygen needs to be delivered to your heart —can also impact your heart health. In fact, a recent study shows that men were 16 percent more likely to experience a heart attack and one-third more likely to die after heavy snowfall, versus a day without snow.
Know your risk factors
While cold weather may play a role in heart attack risk and risk of stroke, studies have shown that heart attack and stroke mortality rates also increase in places without drastic temperature changes season to season. It turns out that seasonal depression and added stress during the holiday season might play a role.
"Stress and depression strongly correlate with heart attack risk," said Dr. Sam Mehta, interventional cardiologist at Rose Medical Center. "Lack of exercise, an unhealthy diet and excessive drinking can also stress out your heart over the holidays.
Watch for warning signs
When you know the warning signs of a heart attack or stroke, you can be prepared to seek medical attention if you experience symptoms.
"Symptoms can vary from person to person," said Dr. Mehta. "Heart attack symptoms include chest pain, chest pressure, shortness of breath and nausea while common stroke symptoms include vision loss, balance issues, weakness on one side or facial drooping on one side."
Give your heart a hand
Reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke this winter season with the following tips:
- Try not to overexert yourself, and take breaks when needed during winter activities like shoveling.
- Dress for the conditions if you go outside.
- Do your best to avoid stressful situations and manage stress when it arises.
- Stick to a balanced eating and exercise routine to keep your heart healthy.
- If you have higher risk factors or a chronic illness, make sure you travel with appropriate medications.
These precautions can help prevent heart attack and stroke during the winter months, but heart health should be a priority year round.
"Regular exercise, a healthy diet, normal cholesterol levels and blood pressure management will help keep your heart healthy all year long," said Dr. Mehta.