The fun and joy of the holiday season are here.
And, with it comes Christmas tunes and decorations, sweet treats, shopping marathons, gift-wrapping deadlines, time with friends and family and great big delicious meals.
Unfortunately, while that all might sound like the most wonderful time of the year, there’s a downside — and I’m not talking about the extra weight most of us worry about packing on between the pumpkin pie and eggnog.
In addition to holiday cheer, the winter months also bring a significant increase in heart attacks.
Yup, it’s a weird statistic but it’s true.
In fact, research published in JAMA Cardiology looked at just that issue in the SWEDEHEART Nationwide Observational Study…
The science about the season of heart attacks
In the 16-year study, the researchers followed more than 280,000 patients to compare air temperature and seasonal variation with the incidence of heart attacks.
And, they found that the average number of heart attacks per day was significantly higher during colder temperatures compared to warmer.
According to the team, the association was so marked that it translated into four more heart attacks across the country of Sweden per day when the average daily temperature was less than 32° F as compared to when it was above 50° F.
When you consider the fact that Sweden has a population just three percent the size of the U.S., it’s clear to see that the number of heart attacks we can expect during winter months is far higher.
To top it off, the cold wasn’t the only issue…
The scientists found that the number of heart attacks was also increased by higher wind velocities, limited sunshine duration and higher air humidity — all things we can expect from November through March and sometimes even April.
But, why do winter months have such an effect on your heart attack risk?
#1 – Blood vessels in your heart
The first answer to that question lies in the blood vessels within your heart.
You see, cold constricts.
And, when the blood vessels of your heart tighten up, blood doesn’t flow as well to this vital organ and that lack of blood flow causes a heart attack.
#2 – Blood vessels outside of your heart
The cold doesn’t only tighten your heart vessels either…
Just like it constricts the vessels inside your heart, it constricts the blood vessels throughout your body — a response that is actually your body’s defense mechanism to maintain your core temperature.
Unfortunately, this makes it harder for blood to pump through those vessels, causing your blood pressure to go up and your heart to work harder than ever.
#3 – Upper respiratory infections
Another risk factor for heart attacks during the winter months is upper respiratory infections.
According to Sanjiv Patel, MD, a cardiologist at Memorial Care Heart & Vascular Institute in Fountain Valley, California having an upper respiratory infection can increase the amount of inflammation in your body.
And, this can not only make the buildup that’s clogging your arteries worse, but it can also destabilize it — causing a dangerous clot to break loose.
Luckily, despite the fact that you’re at much higher risk for a heart attack over the coming months, there is something you can do to protect yourself…
Yup, protect yourself from the cold to protect yourself from a heart attack.
Stay inside on the coldest days when possible. And, when you need to be out and about, dress in warm, loose layers and always wear a hat and gloves. It’s also important to remember to warm up if you will be exerting yourself outside in the cold, such as shoveling snow — or skip the shoveling and hire someone to do it.
So, stay warm and stay protected this winter for heart-healthy holidays.
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- Why Heart Attacks Are More Common in the Winter, According to a Cardiologist — Best Life
- Air temperature is external trigger for heart attack — European Society of Cardiology
- Why the Risk of Heart Attack Rises in Winter — Consumer Reports