Baby, It’s Cold Outside

This post was written by Sharon Spiese, RN, a nurse in the Cardiac-Pulmonary Rehabilitation Center at Abington – Jefferson Health.

Did you know cold weather can increase your risk of heart attack or stroke, especially when engaging in strenuous activities like shoveling snow? Cold weather causes your blood vessels and arteries to narrow, helping keep your core body temperature warm, but causing the restriction of blood flow to the heart. The reduced blood flow through the narrowed arteries also reduces the amount of oxygen available to the heart which increase blood pressure.

Wind, snow and rain can also steal body heat. Wind is especially dangerous because it removes the layer of heated air that circulates the body. Cold weather may lead to hypothermia, which is caused when our body temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. If the body cannot produce enough energy to keep its internal temperature warm, circulation slows down, reducing the amount of oxygen available to the heart. This can be especially dangerous for the elderly, as they have lower amounts of subcutaneous fat and a diminished ability to sense temperature so they can suffer hypothermia without knowing they are in danger.

With temperatures dropping over the next couple months, here are some tips to help your heart weather the cold:

         Dress warmly and in layers – layering helps trap the air between the layers forming protective insulation. Wear a hat you can lose heat through your head and ears are prone to frostbite. Wear gloves hands and feet tend to lose heat rapidly.

          Avoid strenuous outdoor activities and over-exertion If you are outside for a period of time warm up, cool down and take breaks so you don’t over stress your heart and go inside if you start to feel too tired.

          Beware of drinking alcohol – Alcohol can give you a false sensation of warmth.

          Consult a doctor  If you have any medical concerns or questions about exercising in the cold weather (i.e. shoveling snow).

          Know the symptoms of heart attack – Chest pain/pressure/squeezing, pain radiating into arms or neck, discomfort in other areas of the upper body, shortness of breath are a few.

          Know symptoms of a stroke – FAST (Face drooping,  Arm Weakness, Speech difficulty, Time to call 911).

          Know the symptoms of hypothermia – shivering, dizziness, hunger, nausea, trouble speaking, confusion, rapid breathing, lack of coordination, fatigue and elevated heart rate.

As always, stay safe and listen to your body!

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