Why do people get heart attacks in the winter?

Heart Attacks in Winter Season

Coronary Artery Disease 

The main cause of coronary artery disease is atherosclerosis, a build-up of fatty substances called plaque caused by a diet high in saturated fats and cholesterol, smoking and high blood pressure.

The plaque builds up in the walls of the arteries, creating a “hardening” of the arteries. As the arteries become more and more hardened, they develop scars from the build-up of plaque. Over time, when plaque builds up in the arteries, it may restrict or completely block blood flow to the heart muscle. This restriction or blockage is called an “obstruction”.

In the USA, cardiovascular diseases including heart disease, coronary artery disease and stroke are the leading cause of death. At least 80% of all cardiovascular diseases are preventable with proper diet, exercise and lifestyle changes. The latest research indicates that many of these cases can be prevented by following a healthy diet and lifestyle.

Heart attacks in winter season

Coronary artery disease, also known as ischemic heart disease, is a condition in which the coronary arteries are not able to supply the heart muscle with enough blood. 

This means that the heart muscle does not get the oxygen and nutrients it requires to function properly. As a result, the heart muscle is damaged. This damage is called an infarction (or myocardial infarction), and the area of the dead heart muscle is called an infarct. Without sufficient blood and oxygen, the heart is unable to pump blood effectively.

According to a new study, around Christmas, there’s an increased risk of heart attack due to a drop in atmospheric pressure, also known as the holiday heart attack syndrome.

The study suggests that reduced atmospheric pressure increases the chance of blood and other fluids coagulating in the lungs. For people with atherosclerosis and other circulatory conditions, this greatly increases the possibility of a blood clot obstructing blood flow through the lungs, which can lead to a potentially fatal heart attack.

In the winter seasons, the upper portion of our body tends to get affected by the cold winds and we tend to suffer from cold and flu. We also need to wear so many layers of clothes to keep our body warm which leads to the accumulation of more moisture in the body. This moisture gets trapped in our blood vessels and when exposed to cold temperatures, it makes them narrow. As a result, less oxygen and nutrients can reach the heart muscles and that’s when a heart attack occurs.

In the United States, heart attacks are more common in January than in any other month of the year. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), an average of 691,000 Americans suffer from a myocardial infarction (MI), commonly known as a heart attack, every year. During an MI, blood flow to the heart is blocked either partially or completely, which can result in chest pain, shortness of breath and eventually death.

The reason why this happens is a subject of much debate, but according to a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, it has something to do with the weather and seasonality.

How to Prevent Heart Attack During Winter Season?

The winter season is here which means cold and flu season is around the corner. These days, winters give us a lot of excuses to eat heartburn inducing foods and ignore our physical health. 

This lack of care may be a contributing factor to the high number of heart attacks that happen every year in the winter months. A heart attack happens when one or more of the arteries supplying blood to your heart becomes blocked by a clot. This blockage kills heart muscle and causes pain and can lead to death if not treated immediately. Heart attacks occur because of a combination of factors including your family history, your cholesterol levels and blood pressure, smoking, physical inactivity, excess weight and diabetes.

Here are some tips to prevent heart attack during the winter seasons:

  1. Dress according to the weather. Wear layers and especially hats, gloves and heavy socks if the mercury is dipping continuously.
  1. Come inside often if you are spending maximum time outside to give yourself breaks to warm up.
  1. Avoid excess alcohol when you are outside in the cold as it can make you feel warmer than you really are.
  1. Do not shovel for long periods. You may also want to ask your doctor whether it is safe for you to shovel at all.
  1. Wash your hands frequently to avoid infections as they can increase your risk of getting a heart attack.
  1. Get help if you have new symptoms of a heart condition. Do not delay getting help, even if it is a holiday.

Take Away

A heart attack can be fatal. It becomes more likely during the winter season as the weather becomes colder, windier and drier. The Winter season exposes you to a number of health risks. Cold weather, less sunlight and dry air trigger respiratory infections, cold and flu, dry skin and throat, chapped lips and sinuses.

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