If you or someone you know struggles with their heart health, you know the things you need to monitor, like diet and exercise. But did you know that certain times of year may put you more at risk for a heart attack?
Extreme temperatures, along with several other factors, can have a negative effect on your heart health. Here’s what the experts say.
It’s the most dangerous time of the Year
The winter months are sometimes referred to as “heart attack season,” and there may actually be science to support this claim.
Lifespan reported that factors such as barometric pressure, humidity, wind and colder temperatures can cause negative reactions in the body by narrowing blood vessels and thickening the blood.
“Cold weather may increase the risk of heart attacks because the blood vessels constrict, and blood may clot more easily,” cardiologist Arthur Agatston, MD said. “But there’s also a risk that people who are normally very sedentary are pushed to do strenuous work, like shoveling snow. This sudden increase in physical exertion can put a strain on the heart and cause a heart attack.”
Cardiologist Joel Kahn said that shoveling snow specifically can be very strenuous on the heart, and cited it as one of the top six most dangerous activities for your heart.
“The cardiac stress of cold weather and heavy labor can be extreme,” he said. “In case studies, researchers have described heart attacks in patients who suffered a clot in a previously placed heart stent during or soon after shoveling snow. I tell my patients with heart disease to dress warmly, take frequent breaks, stay hydrated, and, in some cases, just play it safe and leave shoveling to someone else.”
However, the cold weather isn’t the only thing putting people at risk in the winter months. A 2018 study revealed that heart attacks increase during the winter holiday season, and the day you are most at risk is on Christmas Eve.
A previous study in 2004 published in Circulation also found that there was a 5% increase in heart-related deaths during the holiday season from 1973 to 2001.
Robert Kloner, MD, Ph.D., a researcher at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles said this could be due to several factors — excessive drinking and eating during the holidays, less physical activity and just a general change in routine.
“People tend to gain weight during the holiday season and take in more salt, which can put additional stress on a weakened heart,” he said.
However, Kloner believes that the main issue is most likely due to people ignoring warning signs of an issue, so they can focus more on time with family and friends.
“People just tend to put off seeking medical help during the holidays. They tend to wait till afterward, which I think is a mistake,” he said.
The last factor affecting your heart health in the cold months? Flu season.
“During the winter months—with the overlap of influenza and other viral illnesses that can worsen heart problems—there is a higher rate of heart failure,” cardiologist Larry Allen, MD, said.
According to a 2018 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, people are six times more likely to have a heart attack the week after being diagnosed with the flu.
“The virus may trigger an inflammatory response that can damage arteries. Being dehydrated thickens blood, making it prone to clot,” Kahn said. “A fever can increase your heart rate, forcing the heart to work harder.”
Coronavirus may bring additional risks this winter season, especially since blood clotting seems to be one of the major causes of death from COVID-19.
Kahn recommends seeking help right away if you struggle with heart issues and are diagnosed with a virus like the flu or coronavirus. Stay safe this winter season and consult with your doctor to take the necessary precautions.