Winter is usually seen as cold-and-flu season, so the fact that it is the time when highest number of heart diseases gets diagnosed may come as a surprise for many.
Health experts claim that almost 50% more heart attacks are reported in winters than in summers due to the severe drop in temperature. Even the nature of heart attacks suffered during winters is more severe as compared to those occurring at other times of the year.
“Cold weather means constricted blood vessels resulting in more load to the heart. Winter attacks are particularly more concerning as they cause more severe damage to the heart muscle,” said Dr Atul Mathur, director, interventional cardiologist at Fortis Escorts Heart Institute."This is the time of the year when our emergency unit is full, we are busy all throughout and even work overnight at times," he added.
For the past two weeks, the institute, which is a cardiac super-specialty hospital, has been getting more than 20 cases of heart attacks every day. The highest number of cases arrived at the hospital on December 17, when 74 patients reported sick at the hospital, which is a record of sorts.
“It is the older people and those with existing heart conditions who are at a higher risk and should take steps to stay warm when temperatures drop,” he said.
There are many reasons for this rise. One of the main reasons could be that exposure to cold leads to the narrowing of blood vessels. In already narrowed arteries, this can lead to complete blockage of arteries and trigger a heart attack.In addition, the blood pressure is higher in winter; the blood is also thicker because of high fibrinogen and bad cholesterol levels also tend to rise in winter. Some data also suggests less daylight in winter may cause changes in the hormone cortisol, which can lower the threshold for a heart attack. All these factors can lead to higher incidences of heart attack in winter.
Mornings are a particularly dangerous time of the day for individuals with high blood pressure, as there is a 40% higher risk of heart attack associated with early morning surges in blood pressure.
Apart from heart ailments, the severe cold also brings along cases of acute asthma, joint pains and reduced skin and hair quality.
“Respiratory tract infections such as bronchitis, pneumonia, acute asthma attacks are common these days. Even cases of winter viral diarrhoea are on the rise as air is full of disease-causing viruses and bacteria,” said Dr Supriya Bali, senior consultant, department of internal medicine, Max Healthcare.
Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) are also very common in this weather, especially of the serious kinds that reach the blood.
Doctors advise wearing warm clothes and doing light exercises indoors to avoid falling sick. Also, people tend to binge eat in the cold weather that must be avoided.
Heart risk faqs
When should the tests be done to screen heart disease?
If there’s a family history of high cholesterol, then the first blood test to check lipid profile at age seven years.
Other tests at age 20, if you are also a smoker: lipid profile, triglycerides, HDL.
For normal asymptomatic persons, first screening should be done at age 30 years in the form of blood pressure (should not be more than 80mmHg); LDL (not more than 100mg/dL); HDL (more than 40mg/dL); Fasting sugar (not more than 80 mg/dL); abdominal circumference (under 90cm for men and under 80cm for women)
What dietary changes can I make to reduce my risk of a heart attack?
Eating right is a powerful way to reduce or even eliminate some heart disease risk factors. One needs to reduce bad cholesterol, lower blood pressure and blood sugar and reduce weight for heart to stay healthy. Also, increase intake of fruits and vegetables, cut down on fat and high-calorie items, avoid read meat and switch to white meat such as chicken and fish, eat small, frequent meals and avoid junk, reduce salt intake and most importantly, exercise regularly.