PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — During a cold snap, heart attacks go up.
Don’t be so quick to blame exertion.
“Just exposure to cold weather increases the work of the heart significantly,” says Dr. Francis Redican, a cardiologist at West Penn Hospital.
The uptick in heart attack, stroke, and sudden cardiac death in wintry weather could be from the cold thickening the blood and constricting blood vessels.
In studies, blood tests on healthy volunteers exposed to cold weather showed increases in circulating levels of hormones that make the blood clot, and stress hormones, like adrenalin.
“When those things go up, your blood vessels are more likely to clamp down,” explains Dr. Redican.
With every degree the temperature goes down, the risk for heart attack and for a potentially deadly heart rhythm goes up. A 7 percent increase for heart attack for every 18 degree drop. A 1 percent increase in arrhythmia for every 2 degree drop.
This is based on a Belgian study of 16,000 patients and a British study of people with implanted defibrillators.
So how do you protect your heart and blood vessels when the weather outside is frightful?
Stay warm and indoors, avoid stressing your heart with large meals and alcohol, and if you have to exert yourself in the snow: “Do it slowly and take frequent breaks,” advises Dr. Redican.