Managing Heart Disease in Winter Months
Can winter weather truly impact your cardiac health?
As the American Heart Association explains, “People with coronary heart disease often suffer angina pectoris (chest pain or discomfort) when they’re in cold weather.” They warn that many people do not consider the challenge that vigorous activity can have on the heart, such as shoveling snow.
Cardiologist Grace Cater, MD, shared her insights with MetroHealth: “Snow shoveling can be more strenuous than exercising full throttle on a treadmill. While this may not be a problem if an individual is healthy and fit, it can be dangerous if not.”
“Shoveling, even pushing a heavy snow blower, can cause sudden increase in blood pressure and heart rate, and the cold air can cause constriction of the blood vessel and decrease oxygen to the heart,” she explained. “All these work in concert to increase the work of the heart and trigger a potentially fatal heart attack.”
Doctor Samin Sharma, director of Clinical and Interventional Cardiology at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, also explained to AccuWeather.com that cold weather triggers hormonal changes that make blood more conducive to clotting. Cortisone levels fluctuate in the cold weather and cause platelets to become “sticky,” which form clots more easily. As arteries constrict in the cold, blockages increase.
Seven signs to watch out for while shoveling or engaging in other activities outside in the cold include:
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Being short of breath
- Pain or discomfort in the chest or jaw
- Tightness in the chest, neck, arms or back
- Burning sensations in the chest, neck, arms or back
- Breaking out in a cold sweat
- Nausea or pain and discomfort in the stomach
If you experience these symptoms, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.
Dr. Sharma suggests that one element which may contribute to cardiac issues during the winter months is decreased vitamin D that is due to a lack of exposure to sunlight. With less time spent outside, our bodies produce less vitamin D, thus leaving us less prepared for activity in the cold.
Routine exercise and safe exposure to the sun during the winter months can help our systems manage winter weather. Premier Home Health Care Services, Inc. aides can assist patients with bundling up carefully and safely engaging in brief walks – even during winter months – to keep the body active, while at the same time getting some time in the sunshine when possible.
Additionally, with your home health care team, you can arrange and coordinate help with tasks such as shoveling. With these strenuous tasks managed, you can have peace of mind and ensure your walkways are ready for those healthy walks.
In addition to helping to safeguard against heart complications in the winter months, Premier can help patients manage cardiovascular disease throughout the year. Conditions that Premier can help patients manage include:
- COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)
- This pulmonary condition can have a direct impact on the heart’s right ventricle. Pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the arties and lungs) can result from low oxygen levels as a result of COPD, causing right-sided heart failure with fluid accumulating throughout extremities and the lungs. Managing COPD to prevent heart failure is critical.
- Stroke is a risk factor for coronary disease. Those who have experienced a stroke are at greater risk for heart disease. (And those who have heart disease are at greater risk for having a stroke.) Both heart disease and stroke may be caused by atherosclerosis, or the narrowing of arteries from build-up of fatty materials. Maintaining a healthy diet and exercising (which home health care can help with) are critical.
- Hypertensive Heart Disease
- High blood pressure can overburden the heart and blood vessels. Managing medications and maintaining a healthy lifestyle are critical for managing hypertension.
- Congenital and Disease-Related Heart Disease
- Congenital heart disease is caused by malformations a person is born with, which impacts the heart’s structure. Diseases that can cause heart disease include conditions such as Rheumatic heart disease (which is caused by a Rheumatic fever, usually in childhood) which may follow a streptococcal infection. These conditions require monitoring, and home health care can work with a patient’s medical team to ensure that medications are managed and any changes are noted and addressed.