Cold Weather and Heart Disease

It is important to know how cold weather can affect your heart, especially if you have heart disease, said Padma Shri, National Science Communication and Dr B C Roy National Awardee Dr KK Aggarwal President Heart Care Foundation of India and Senior National Vice President IMA.

People who stay outdoors in cold weather should avoid sudden exertion to prevent accidental hypothermia. Hypothermia occurs when the body temperature drops below 950F. This means that the body does not produce enough energy to keep the internal body temperature warm enough. Hypothermia can be life-threatening.

The most common cause of death in hypothermia is heart failure. Symptoms include lack of coordination, mental confusion, slowed reactions, shivering and sleepiness.

Children, the elderly and those with heart disease are especially at risk of developing hypothermia. With advancing age, the ability of the body to maintain a normal internal body temperature often declines. The elderly seem to be relatively insensitive to moderately cold conditions, so they can develop hypothermia without them being aware that they are in danger.

People with coronary heart disease often suffer angina pectoris (chest pain or discomfort) during winters. The cold weather may increase the risk of heart attack due to overexertion.

Besides cold temperatures, high winds, snow and rain also can cause loss of body heat. High winds remove the layer of heated air from around your body. Even at 300F in a 30-mile wind, the cooling effect is equal to 150F. In the same way, dampness causes the body to lose heat faster than it would at the same temperature in drier conditions.

*To keep warm, wear layers of clothing. This traps air between layers, forming a protective insulation.
*Also, wear a hat or head scarf.
*Heat can be lost through your head.
*Ears are especially prone to frostbite.
*Keep hands and feet warm, too, as they tend to lose heat rapidly.
*Don’t drink alcoholic beverages before going outdoors or when outside. Alcohol gives an initial feeling of warmth, because blood vessels in the skin expand. Heat is then drawn away from the body’s vital organs.
*If you have a medical condition, don’t exercise on a regular basis or if you are middle aged or older, meet with your doctor prior to exercising in cold weather.
*Learn CPR 10: Effective bystander CPR, provided immediately after sudden cardiac arrest, can double or triple a victim’s chance of survival. Hands-only CPR makes it easier than ever to save a life.

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