Dr Arvind Kohli
Winter can be a joyous season for people of all ages. Those who embrace it know what makes it so wonderful.
The beauty of a glistening snowfall, the thrill of sports like skiing and skating, the reward of a frothy hot chocolate after a day of winter fun. But for all its glories, winter can also bring a certain element of danger to our lives, particularly when it comes to our hearts, and it’s important to appreciate both the benefits and risks of this chilly season.
During winter, it’s important to know the effects of cold weather on body, and the risks for cardiac health. Elderly people are especially vulnerable in winter months, particularly if the cold causes a drop in their body temperature (hypothermia).Cold weather makes the heart to work harder to keep body warm, so the heart rate and blood pressure may increase. These changes can cause heart problems, especially if person is already having a cardiac ailment The cold can also cause changes to blood rheology that may increase the risk of developing blood clots, which could lead to a heart attack or stroke. Doctors have usually noticed that there is an increase in heart attacks by around 50% during the harsh season. The effects of cold weather could lead to serious illness or even death, so it is very important to stay warm during the winter.
How does cold weather affect the heart?
Many people aren’t conditioned to the physical stress of vigorous outdoor activities and don’t know the potential dangers of being outdoors in Cold weather, especially a very rapid change in the weather, is more likely to cause blood vessels to constrict. If a person is already having have narrowing of the blood vessels because of underlying heart disease these blood vessels are constricted further, it restricts the amount of blood that’s getting to vital organs In other words, cold weather can make heart attack more likely to happen.Instead of triggering a full-blown heart attack, cold weather can also just minimize blood flow to the heart, causing chest pain (angina), which is a symptom of coronary artery disease. This is the main form of heart disease, a disorder of the blood vessels of the heart that can lead to heart attack.
In addition to coronary artery disease, cold weather can put a strain on . heart and circulatory system, affecting other forms of cardiovascular disease, too. cold weather may also increase the risk of ischemic stroke in patients with atrial fibrillation, a heart rhythm disorder. Ischemic stroke – the most common type of stroke – occurs when ruptured arterial plaque causes a blood clot to block a blood vessel to the brain, cutting off its much needed blood and oxygen supply.Sudden bouts of energetic activity, such as rushing around to get out of the cold or shoveling snow, in combination with chilly temperatures can put additional strain on thecoronary and carotid blood vessels that feed . heart or brain. This puts a person at greater risk of having a cardiovascular event,
Symptoms of heart attack include uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain in chest (angina) or other areas of body and shortness of breath.
Stroke symptoms to watch out for include facial drooping, especially on one side, arm weakness, and difficulty in speaking or slurred speech
Tips for staying safe and healthy
The best thing to do to stay healthy and safe throughout the winter is to know the personal risks for heart attack.It’s also important to keep the body warm and to achieve that, wear layers of clothing. This traps air between layers, forming a protective insulation. Also, wear a hat or head scarf. Heat can be lost through head. And ears are especially prone to frostbite. Keep the hands and feet warm, too, as they tend to lose heat rapidly.
Avoid walks during chilly mornings
Cold mornings without sun are not the best time to have a walk for heart patients. Blood pressure can naturally spike in mornings which holds a greater risk of heart attack. It is also advisable to take walks during evenings in the mild sun. One should also take break during the walks. however it is essential to get some vitamin D naturally so whenever possible enjoy the mellow sunshine of winter
Stick to your exercise routine
Cold weathers tend to make one lethargic. However, it is necessary to stick to your regular exercise routine without changing it. Making changes in your exercise can cause disharmony in the natural rhythm of the body and can affect heart.But it is important to select the best time for your workouts It is also important to warm-up before working out to avoid stressing
Regular medication and nutrition
It is important to indulge in healthy food and avoid fried food especially during winters. It is also vital to eat the meals at regular time and not go hungry. Berries, flaxseeds, nuts, dark chocolate, legumes, citrus fruits, tomatoes, and veggies like spinach, carrots, sweet potatoes, red peppers, broccoli are some of the foods that are good for the heart.Reduce your intake of salt, which gets accumulated in the body due to less sweating. This puts extra load on the heart.
Similarly, it is important to consult your doctors and take the right kind of medications.and not to skip them especially rheology regulators Also, don’t forget to drink water to maintain proper hydration
Stressing and winter are not a good combination for your heart. It is important for heart patients to avoid stressful situations at any given time, but this becomes extremely important during winter. Whether it is work stress or personal problems, it is important to deal with things positively and stay happy.
Body”s immune system is lowest during winter which leads to spreading of infections. It is extremely important to stay healthy and away from flu. Visit your doctor even in case of slightest fever or cold. Early treatments will keep help you recover soon and stay healthy.
(The author is Cardiac Surgeon SSH GMC, Jammu)
Dr Arvind Kohli