As the mercury dips, doctors warn that heart patients are at double the risk of suffering a cardiac attack as compared to summer.
Though winters see lesser diseases linked to breeding of bacteria and viruses, the fall in temperature poses an additional risk for those suffering from heart problems or high blood pressure.
“The risk of having a heart attack during the winter months are twice as high as in summer. And a heart attack in the winter is also more likely to be a fatal one than at any other time of year,” Praveen Chandra, chairman, interventional cardiology, at Gurgaon’s Medanta Medicity, said.
Sunil Kaushal of Fortis Escorts Heart Institute said: “In winters, the peripheral blood vessels under skin constrict as an effect of the cold. This reduces the area of blood flow, resulting in higher pressure on heart to pump blood.”
“The metabolism of body is also high, so is the oxygen need, cumulatively increasing the pressure on heart,” he said.
“The heart is working against a heavy load, if the pressure in summer is 80 by 100, it may rise up to 140 by 150 in winter,” he said.
“When the weather is cold, your heart must also work harder to maintain body heat and your arteries tighten, which restricts the blood flow and reduces the oxygen supply to your heart,” he said.
“All these factors can trigger a heart attack, especially in the elderly or those with existing heart disease,” explained Chandra.
Doctors add that lack of sunlight is another influential reason which explains why heart attacks occur more often during winter.
“It’s a fact that less daylight in the winter can worsen mood problems, increase depression risk, and can also affect the heart,” said Atul Mathur, director, interventional cardiology, Escorts Hospital.
“Studies have looked at heart attack patients and found they have lower levels of vitamin D than healthy people,” he said.
Flu is another factor which increases heart attack risk. “The flu is another culprit responsible for the winter surge in heart attacks,” Chandra said.
According to doctors, some basic precautions, like avoiding dehydration, can reduce the risk.
“Drink 10 glasses of water to keep dehydration at bay. Too much alcohol and high calorie food should also be avoided,” Mathur said.
“The body needs to be conditioned physically, mentally and medically to fight cold. Patients should not get exposed to cold conditions and the risks and precautions should be clear to prepare the patient,” said Kaushal.
“A patient should remain in touch with a doctor so that any change in blood pressure and other body conditions is noticed,” he said.
While some doctors suggest light exercise, Mathur warned that too much of exercise may be harmful.
“If someone is not in the habit of exercising, they must not start exercise suddenly. For those suffering with very high blood pressure, very early morning walks must be avoided,” said Mathur.
“If you are diabetic, hypertensive or elderly, get an influenza shot to lower the chances of heart attack. Do keep your blood pressure in check. In case you experience giddiness or heaviness consult a doctor,” Mathur said.