Cold weather and your heart

By June Shannon Heart News   |   5th Nov 2018

A number of studies have suggested that changes in weather can have an impact on your heart health

With the weather due to get colder over the coming months it is important to keep warm, particularly as a number of studies have found that changes in temperature can influence the risk of heart attack and stroke.

The most recent of these is from Sweden which found that heart attacks were more likely to occur when temperatures dropped below freezing.

The study by researchers from Lund University in Sweden, examined data from more than 274,000 patients who had a heart attack in Sweden from 1998 to 2013. They also analysed weather recordings over the same period of time.

According to the findings, days with low air temperature, low atmospheric air pressure, high wind velocity and shorter periods of sunshine were associated with risk of heart attack.

The strongest association appeared to be for air temperature, and the researchers found that there was a higher risk of heart attack on days when air temperatures were less than freezing or 0° C / 32°F.

The authors noted that although the results observed in the study were statistically significant, the differences were modest.

" To avoid the increased risk, it’s important to keep warm and well hydrated, avoid alcohol and make sure any prescribed medication is taken regularly.”

Dr Angie Brown, Medical Director , Irish Heart Foundation

The Lund University study is one a number of research studies which have looked at the influence of the weather on heart health.

Another, which was presented at the Asian Pacific Society of Cardiology (APSC) Congress 2018 in Taiwan earlier this year also found that heart attacks were more likely to strike in cold weather, leading researchers to call for high risk patients to be alerted to symptoms when temperatures drop.

Dr Angie Brown, Medical Director of the Irish Heart Foundation said there were several studies showing that changes in temperature can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.

“There are several potential mechanisms for this. Cold exposure is known to cause vasoconstriction, increase blood pressure, heart rate, increase inflammatory markers such as plasma fibrinogen and increase platelet viscosity (which makes the blood ‘more sticky’). These factors can increase the risk of heart attack. Similarly, exposure to heat can elevate heart rate, blood pressure, blood viscosity (thickness and stickiness of your blood) and coagulability (ability to make clots), weaken core temperature regulation and heighten the risk of coronary events and stroke. As well, dehydration after heat exposure can lead to fluid and electrolyte disturbances that are a frequent complication in patients with coronary dysfunction particularly those on diuretics (water tablets).

To avoid the increased risk, it’s important to keep warm and well hydrated avoid alcohol and make sure any prescribed medication is taken regularly.”

The Winter also heralds flu season and getting flu brings an increased risk for heart attack and stroke, especially in already vulnerable people. So, at the Irish Heart Foundation we recommend all those with existing heart disease and those who’ve had a stroke, should receive the flu vaccine to protect themselves.

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