Ochsner: How to Avoid a Cold Weather Heart Attack

Now that South Louisiana has been hit with really cold weather, most people are taking precautions for pipes, plants, and pets. Cold weather also causes an increased risks to our hearts.

Studies show the number of heart attacks increase during the colder months. Dr. Jason Schrock, Primary Care Physician at Ochsner Medical Complex - Iberville, points to the relationship between cold weather and strenuous activity as a factor. This relationship can even affect people who have not had previous heart issues.

“Cold weather can cause your arteries to constrict,” said Dr. Schrock. “This can mean your heart has to work harder due to a rise in blood pressure and pulse. Additionally, during the colder months, platelets are more prone to abnormally aggregate, causing clots. Throw in elevated heart rates due to activity, and for some people, that spells trouble.”

Strenuous activity can be anything from that New Year’s resolution workout, to the annual family ski trip, to hunting, or even exerting yourself at a chilly Mardi Gras parade. Dr. Schrock recommends that her patients with a significant cardiac history avoid outdoors cold-weather activity all together.

Some ways to protect yourself in the colder months include:

-Dress in layers of clothing. This traps air between layers, forming a protective insulation.

-Wear a hat or head scarf. Up to 30% of body heat is lost through the head.

-Keep hands and feet warm. They also tend to lose heat rapidly. Exposed hands, ears, or any other body part will result in constricted blood flow to these appendages, increasing the risk of frostbite.

-Avoid drinking alcoholic beverages before going outdoors, or while 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, resulting in a net loss of heat.

-Stay dry. Dampness causes the body to lose heat faster than it would at the same temperature in drier conditions.

-Know your risk factors. Talk to your doctor about your family history and stay up-to-date on appropriate health screenings.