Cold Heart Facts
When temperatures plummet in winter, doctors see a spike in heart attack deaths. New research suggests that lower temps may boost inflammation, which drives the plaque formation and blood clotting that lead to heart attack and stroke.
The coldest months spell trouble for heart health for several reasons, says Cleveland Clinic’s Stephen J. Nicholls, MBBS, PhD, Assistant Professor of Molecular Medicine at the Sydell and Arnold Miller Family Heart & Vascular Institute. Winter is prime time for lung infections, which put an extra strain on the heart. Scarce sunshine increases the chance of vitamin D deficiency, which recently has been linked with inflammation and cardiovascular deaths. And when it’s bitter cold outside, many people stay cooped up inside, overeat and forgo exercise.
What can patients do? “Reduce your risks for infections,” Dr.Nicholls says. Wash hands often and get a flu vaccination, if appropriate. Vitamin D supplementation may be worth considering if you have a deficiency. Finally, keep exercising and eating right. “In a patient with established cardiovascular disease, a few extra pounds around the middle can have a dramatic effect.”
This story originally appeared in Cleveland Clinic Magazine, Winter 2009.
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