If you have heart disease, taking care of your heart is a job you have to do 365 days a year. In addition to monitoring your symptoms, taking your medications as prescribed, and following recommendations for a heart-healthy lifestyle, you have to be prepared to handle the curveballs Mother Nature sometimes throws, including snowstorms and the complications they may bring, such as power outages or road conditions that could make it tough to get to the pharmacy, among other things.
Here we offer some tips to help you prepare for when it gets really cold …
When temperatures drop, the heart has to work harder to help maintain your body’s core temperature. In fact, according to the American Heart Association, heart failure is the cause of most deaths from hypothermia - a dangerous condition in which the body’s temperature falls below normal.
While researchers aren’t exactly sure why, cold temperatures increase heart attack risk, too. Part of the reason might be that walking through heavy snow or lifting shovels full of snow can be unexpectedly strenuous work for anyone who only does those tasks occasionally. Some researchers think cold weather may influence the human body in other ways (such as hormones or blood vessel constriction) to also increase the likelihood of a heart attack.
Very cold weather is particularly dangerous for people with heart disease. This applies to babies and young children with complex congenital heart conditions as well.
Even if you do not have known heart disease, be sure to bundle up with layers of clothes when going outside, wear a hat to reduce heat loss from your head, and to go slowly when shoveling or doing other physically challenging tasks. If you know you have heart disease, the same warnings apply, but much more strongly. Before cold weather strikes, ask your doctor about safe levels of exposure to the cold and which activities should be left to someone without heart disease.
Symptoms to Watch For
Hypothermia and heart attack are both medical emergencies. If you suspect either, dial 9-1-1 immediately.
Heart attack symptoms
- Chest discomfort (Remember: not all people with heart attacks have chest pain.)
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach
- Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort
- Breaking out in a cold sweat, or feeling nauseous or lightheaded
- Exhaustion or drowsiness
- Memory loss
- Fumbling hands
- Slurred speech
What if your power goes out?
An electrical outage can happen at any time, knocking out not just communications but basic home services. If you are a heart patient, taking a little time now to prepare can save stress - and potentially your life - next time there is a power outage.
These suggestions can help you prepare for power outages:
- Telephone: If your only phone is a cell phone, keep the phone charged so you can call 911 if you were to experience a medical emergency during a power outage. If you have a landline phone, make sure you have at least one phone in the house that can operate on the landline without electricity. If possible retain both methods for calling in case of an emergency.
- Emergency contacts: During a power outage, you may not be able to access contact information online or in a list of contacts on your computer. Keep contact information for your physicians and your pharmacy written down on paper, and carry a copy with you in your wallet or purse. Include on the list the phone numbers for family or friends who serve as emergency contacts.
- Household temperature: If you rely on electric heat in the winter, layer clothing to keep warm and be sure to have safe, alternate options for heating available - or stay with a friend or family member until power is restored.
- Drinking water: Everyone needs drinking water, but as a heart disease patient you will want to be particularly careful to take good care of yourself. If your house is supplied by an electric well-water pump, be sure to have on hand at least three days worth of drinking water (1 gallon per person per day) in case of a power outage.
Is Your Emergency Supply Kit heart healthy?
While everyone should keep an emergency supply kit at home in case of a natural disaster or prolonged failure of city services, doing so is especially important for anyone with a chronic medical condition such as heart disease.
As a heart disease patient, a key component of your kit will be your medications. If a natural disaster strikes your home region, you may find that you cannot immediately leave your home to fill prescriptions, you may not be able to find a pharmacy that is open for business, or you may be forced to evacuate for a few days or weeks or more.
Keep a one-month supply of your heart medications in your supply kit, along with prescription information. This can free you from the stress of securing these needed medications during an emergency - and it can potentially save your life.
It is important to make sure the medications have not expired. Mark your calendar to refresh your medications (and other items) in your emergency supply kit periodically. You should also talk with your doctor or pharmacist about how and where to store supplies of the particular medications you are taking.
Tips for Building Your Emergency Supply Kit
Start with the basic list below to begin building your kit. Also, try tracking the items you use over the course of a week to help you think of items you might have forgotten, such as particular medications or types of medical equipment. Without making it a tedious assignment, jot down notes on items as you use them and add back-up supplies of these items where appropriate to your emergency supply kit.
Here’s a list to get you started:
- Water: one gallon per person per day, for a three-day supply
- Food: non-perishable food items, three-day supply (include a can opener if you keep canned goods in your kit)
- Contact information: written addresses and phone numbers for family, friends, and treating physicians
- Phone: if possible, a landline phone that does not require electricity
- Radio and batteries
- First-aid kit: basic over-the-counter (OTC) medications and bandages
- Medications: a one-month supply of prescription medications for heart disease and any other conditions, as well as prescription information. If your medications are supposed to be refrigerated, it may be a good idea to keep some ice or frozen ice gel packs on hand along with a cooler to store them in case you lose power for a long period.
- Personal hygiene items
- Flashlight and batteries
For more information on protecting your health in extreme weather, check out the SecondsCount Guide to Extreme Weather.