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Preventing heart attacks during cold weather - MercyOne

The winter season brings an elevated risk for heart attacks. Dr. Youssef Nasr , cardiologist from MercyOne North Iowa Heart Center , shares what to keep in mind when you head outside to shovel snow and signs you may be experiencing a heart attack.

Cold weather and heart attacks

Multiple scientific trials have shown that heart attacks and heart problems increase during the winter months. Walk through the science behind what happens to your body during cold weather.

During the cold weather or icy cold temperature, blood vessels and arteries clamp down and constrict, causing a decrease in blood flow and delivery of oxygen. This increase blood pressure which can increase the formation of blood clots.

During cold-weather months your heart works extra hard to maintain a healthy body temperature. Too low or too high of a body temperature puts stress on your heart. One high-risk activity is shoveling snow.

“Shoveling snow is a strenuous activity that is compared to running on a treadmill at full speed,” said Dr. Nasr. “If you have active heart problems or have multiple risk factors, shoveling the snow can suddenly give you a heart attack.”

Before you shovel

  • Avoid drinking coffee and smoking and things that increase blood pressure and heart rate
  • Stretch/warm up
  • Don’t eat a heavy meal right beforehand
  • Stay hydrated and take regular breaks
  • Bundle in layers to help regulate body temperature

If you get experience chest pain, nausea, shortness of breath or shoulder and neck pain, while shoveling snow, stop what you’re doing, get inside and consider calling 911.

Layers, layers, layers

While the weather forecast may show freezing temperatures, you need to be careful of overheating in the winter.

“It is very important to dress warmly, but it’s also crucial to avoid overheating,” said Dr. Nasr. “Too much clothing prevents your body releasing heat which can cause heart attacks. Too many layers of heavy material can make it difficult to release the heat when working out or shoveling. This is because blood vessels will over dilate, and the blood pressure will go down which can lead to heart attacks. Dress in layers you can easily remove clothing to make sure you are regulating your body heat.”

Other health factors

During the winter months, cold weather impacts so much of our day-to-day lives. Here are a few other key factors to keep your heart healthy.

  • Missing prescription refill because of weather can be dangerous for your heart
  • Flu and other health problems in the winter can put more strain on your heart
  • Holidays and holiday parties may increase your stress, alcohol and sugary food intake and decrease your physical activity.

If you want to learn more about your heart health, schedule an appointment with your primary care provider or find a provider near you .

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