Prevea Health

Cold weather and heart attacks


Cold weather, especially sub-zero temperatures, causes your blood vessels to constrict. And if you have underlying heart disease, you may already have narrowing of the blood vessels. Cold weather can cause the vessels to constrict even further, resulting in limiting the amount of blood that is getting to your vital organs. The result—cold weather can make a heart attack more likely to happen.

Cold weather won’t increase your risk of a heart attack if you are an average healthy person. The trouble comes into play when you have underlying coronary artery disease and aren’t aware of it. To reduce your risk of heart attack, especially in cold weather, the following steps are recommended:

Schedule a physical exam. The start of cold weather is a good time for an annual routine physical. Tell your health care provider if you have experienced chest pain, shortness of breath or feeling winded, or if you have a family history of heart disease. Also ask your health care provider about risk factors for heart disease.

Cover your mouth and nose. Cover your mouth and nose with a scarf when going out into the cold weather. The scarf creates a barrier to the cold, allowing the air to naturally warm before it goes into your body, thus eliminating a cold air “shock” to your cardiovascular system.

Wear multiple layers. Getting cold can cause your blood vessels to constrict, which may increase the risk for a heart attack if you have underlying coronary artery disease. Wear a hat, gloves and multiple layers of clothing to stay warm. If you get hot, remove a layer. Also, remember to stay well hydrated while outdoors.

Know your body. If you have experienced chest pain, shortness of breath, feeling winded or fluttering in your chest, you need to see your doctor for an evaluation. If you are having chest pain or arm pain —especially while you are at rest and it’s a new symptom, you may need immediate attention. Call 911. Never drive yourself to the emergency department.

Prevea Heart & Vascular offers a heart prevention clinic for anyone age 18 and older with a family history of heart disease or with risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Risk factors include diabetes, smoking, abnormal cholesterol, high blood pressure or obesity. Those who are over age 40 and interested in starting a high-intensity exercise program, or those with a previous our current cancer diagnosis with exposure to chemotherapy or radiation, are also candidates for the heart prevention clinic. Same- or next-day appointments are oftentimes available and no referral is needed. Find a doctor near you.

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