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Cold weather hazards for the heart in winter

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Cold weather hazards for the heart in winter

Winter has come to the Big Easy, and cold weather can be a problem for your heart. If you or a loved one has cardiovascular disease, you should know that more heart attacks happen in winter than any other time, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).

Warning signs of a heart attack

Signs and symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • Chest pain or discomfort, which might feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pain or discomfort in your arm or shoulders
  • Pain or discomfort in your jaw, neck or back
  • Pain or discomfort in your upper abdomen or back
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness or lightheadedness

If you experience any signs or symptoms of a heart attack, call 9-1-1 or seek emergency medical care immediately.

How cold weather affects your heart

In addition to increasing heart attack risk, cold weather is hard on your heart. Your heart might hurt in the winter because of many different factors, including:

  • Blood clots. According to the AHA, cold weather can cause blood clots to form.
  • Constricted arteries. Your arteries can constrict in the cold, which decreases blood flow and oxygen delivery to the rest of your body.
  • Depression. The dark days of winter and memories of Christmases past can be depressing and increase emotional upset and the risk of a heart attack.
  • Increased instances of the influenza virus. The prime time for flu runs from December to February. Data shows getting the flu increases your risk of a heart attack.
  • Lower body temperatures. The cold weather lowers your body temperature and causes the heart to work harder to warm you back up.
  • Stress from the holiday season. From parties and gift shopping to your in-laws and cooking to feed 20, it’s no secret that the holidays can add a lot of stress. Extra stress equals bad news for your heart because it raises blood pressure, increases inflammation and cholesterol, and can even throw the rhythm of your heart out of whack.

Reduce your risk of cold weather heart problems

Help your heart out when the temperatures drop by bundling up and keeping warm. When you go outside, wear layers of clothing, including a hat and scarf. If you’re outside and your clothes get wet, change as soon as possible. Damp or wet clothes can cause your body temperature to drop quickly.

As in the summer, do your best to eat a heart-healthy diet and get enough safe physical activity. Load up on fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and low-fat or fat-free dairy. Avoid those cookies, egg nogs, and anything else that has added sugar, saturated or trans fats.

Don’t let shorter days and inclement weather keep you from regular exercise. If your primary care provider okays it, get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week, 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week, or a combination of the two.

Risk factors for heart disease include smoking cigarettes and high cholesterol or high blood pressure. If you have diabetes or are overweight or obese, you are also at an increased risk for a cardiovascular event. Speak with a doctor about resolutions to better manage heart disease risk in the coming year.

Keep your heart pumping strong this winter and beyond. Find a cardiologist at LCMC Health.