For anyone suffering from heart disease, winter presents a unique set of risks and challenges. For those with coronary artery disease in particular, cold weather can lead to episodes of cardiac ischemia, angina, and even heart attacks. For those suffering from heart failure, a quick drop in temperature could pose a greater risk.
It’s pretty easy to see why anyone with heart disease has to be careful with the changing of the seasons. Thankfully, proper precautions aren’t too complicated or difficult. To get started, let’s take a look at exactly why low temperatures can be hard on the heart.
Low Temperature Risks
When you enter a colder environment, your body has to make certain adjustments in order to keep your core body temperature high. These adjustments are normally pretty simple, but they do involve pumping a lot of blood, so if your heart isn’t in pristine condition, then that increased strain can have dire consequences. When your body tries to raise its temperature, it drives your heart rate and blood pressure up. Your heart’s working harder, which means a higher chance of failure, not to mention the increased chances of a dangerous blood clot.
In conjunction, these factors can contribute to acute cardiac problems. Everyone needs to be careful in the cold, but here are five simple tips that can help the vulnerable minimize the danger.
1. Reduce Exposure
The simplest and most obvious solution is to just not get as exposed to the cold. (Living in Houston, we are somewhat immune to this, however weather can get quite cold in late December and January.) This can range from refraining to going outside at all to bundling up under multiple layers. As long as you’re covering skin wherever possible, you’re reducing the need of your heart to compensate for the decrease in skin temperature.
2. Don’t Overcompensate
On the other hand, you don’t want to bundle yourself so tightly that you start to overheat. The hotter you get, the more your blood vessels dilate and the greater your risk for hypotension. If you are going to bundle up, don’t overexert yourself with too much exercise. Either shed some layers if you absolutely have to stay outside and keep moving or head inside and shed some clothing.
3. Don’t Overexert Yourself
Exercise may sound like a good idea, but the contrast of cold weather and hard work can lead to serious health risks. Angina, heart attacks, heart failure, and even sudden death are all common among folks that exert themselves in cold weather. If you absolutely have to work, then try to make your task as easy as possible on your body. For example, shovel snow with small, manageable shovelfuls rather than trying to get it done as quickly as possible.
4. Avoid the Flu
Getting a flu shot is one of the best things you can do for your heart in winter. The combination of cold weather and sickness can be crippling or even lethal to those with heart conditions, so make sure you get your shot in advance.
5. Limit Drinking
Partaking around the holidays may seem irresistible, but the consequences can be dire. Alcohol expands the blood vessels in your skin, which may make you feel warmer, but that isn’t really the case. What’s actually happening is that you feel warm, but heat is leaving your internal organs and leaving you at serious risk.
What To Do
Cold temperatures can be difficult for everyone, but they pose particular dangers to those with heart conditions. However, that doesn’t mean you need to hole up inside your house and wait out the danger in boredom. As long as you follow these simple tips, you should be able to detect any problems before they worsen and take the proper course of action.