The University of Kentucky Public Relations & Strategic Communications Office provides a weekly health column available for use and reprint by news media. This week's column is by Dr. Susan Smyth, director of UK HealthCare’s Gill Heart & Vascular Institute.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (Feb. 10, 2020) — We may be starting the new year with mild temperatures, but we still have a long stretch of winter months ahead. As the temperatures inevitably turn more seasonable, it’s important to keep up with your health, especially your heart.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and the rates tend to spike during the winter. Studies dating back to the 1970’s indicate higher rates of cardiac death and heart attacks during colder months. There are many factors that likely contribute to the increase in cardiovascular events, including environmental and biological factors. We particularly see an increase in cardiac events among the elderly population, who are at greater risk.
Snowfall was found to be associated with higher coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke deaths for a five- or six-day period. It’s possible some patients were simply trying to shovel snow out of their driveway. If you see an older neighbor who may be struggling to shovel snow, it’s always a good idea to offer help.
Other factors that may contribute to failing heart health in the winter are illnesses, like seasonal influenza or respiratory infections, which can trigger cardiac events. Cold temperatures can also change hormone levels that can increase blood pressure and other factors in the blood that may predispose blood clotting.
A study published in the North American Journal of Medical Sciences addresses winter cardiovascular diseases phenomenon. The study reviews seasonal patterns across 12 cardiovascular diseases, including deep vein thrombosis (DVT), pulmonary embolism, stroke and heart failure. According to researchers, there is a clear seasonal trend of cardiovascular diseases, with the highest incidence occurring during the colder winter months.
Regular physical activity and a balanced, nutrient-rich diet are essential to your heart health during the winter. Also be sure to dress warmly. Most importantly: know when to see your doctor and if you’re experiencing any immediate symptoms, call 9-1-1.
Symptoms of a heart attack vary between men and women, but can include chest and upper body discomfort, shortness of breath and nausea or lightheadedness. You may even break into a cold sweat. If someone suddenly becomes unresponsive and/or is not breathing normally, call emergency services immediately. When it comes to your heart, seconds matter, so act fast.
The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion three years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers." We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for four straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.