Staying Heart-Healthy During a Blizzard

Don’t Become Victim to Winter’s Bone Chilling Effects

NYC SnowOld man winter is at it again. Ice and snowstorms have a bone chilling effect on all of us.  In fact, the American Heart Association has cold weather warnings that will make cars not starting in subzero temperatures, schools closing on a frequent basis and sidewalks needing to be shoveled clean just in time for the next snowfall, seem minor.

The American Heart Association recommends people who have coronary heart disease or are at risk for heart disease should avoid any sudden exertion while outdoors in cold weather. Even walking through heavy snow or snowdrifts can add strain to the heart.  If snow must be shoveled, it should be done by someone who is physically fit and dressed warmly.

Some researchers have found that the stress of cold temperatures can cause constriction of the arteries in the heart. Cold temperatures can also increase blood pressure and blood viscosity (resistance to flow) and alter blood clotting.  These factors can be involved in angina (chest pain), heart attack and stroke.

The elderly and those with heart disease are at special risk. As people get older, their ability to maintain a normal internal body temperature often decreases.  Because elderly people seem to be relatively insensitive to moderately cold conditions, they can start to suffer hypothermia without knowing they are in danger.

Hypothermia is a drop in body temperature to a subnormal level. It occurs when a person’s body cannot produce enough energy to keep the internal body temperature warm enough.  It is a potentially fatal condition.  Heart failure is the cause of death in most cases of hypothermia.  Signs of hypothermia include lack of coordination, mental confusion, slowed reactions, shivering and sleepiness.

Don’t drink alcoholic beverages before going outside or while out in the cold. Alcohol gives an initial feeling of warmth, but this is caused by expanding blood vessels in the skin.  This draws heat away from the body’s vital organs.

To keep warm, wear layers of clothing. This allows air to be trapped between layers, forming a sort of protective insulation.  Also, wear a hat or head scarf.  Much of the body’s heat can be lost through the head and ears are especially prone to frostbite.  Keep your hands and feet warm, too, because they tend to lose heat rapidly.

If you must shovel snow or you have to be out in the cold, remember these warning signs of heart attack:

  • Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing or pain in the center of the chest lasting more than a few minutes.
  • Pain spreading to the shoulders, neck or arms.
  • Chest discomfort with lightheadedness, fainting, sweating, nausea or shortness of breath.





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