• Extreme Weather and Your Heart: Important Info for When It Gets Cold

     
     
     
    Type Size
     
    9/11/2013

    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. That means knowing how to handle extreme weather conditions. To help you get prepared for, check out these tips and keep them handy. You never know when you might need them!

    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 discomfortin 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 orlightheaded   

    Hypothermia symptoms

    •  Exhaustion or drowsiness
    • Shivering
    • Confusion
    • Memory loss
    • Fumbling hands
    • Slurred speech