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It’s generally accepted that we have to take special care to protect our heart from damage during summer heat. What many may not realize is that the extreme winter cold may be just as dangerous to your heart health as hot weather is during the summer. In fact, the risk of heart attack may be higher during cold weather.
In a study conducted by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, researchers found a direct relationship between lower temperatures during winter months and the risk of heart attack. For each 1.8 degree Fahrenheit drop in temperature, researchers found that the risk of heart attack increased by 2 percent.
Researchers found the greatest risk of heart attack during the immediate period -- two weeks -- following a temperature drop. Even though the risk was greatest during the initial two week period, the increased risk of heart attack remained constant for up to a month after the temperature drop.
After examining hospital admissions of more than 84,000 patients, researchers observed that elderly patients, particularly those with a prior history of heart disease, were at the greatest risk of heart attack. In particular, the risk of heart attack was found to be greater in patients between the ages of 75-84. Long-term aspirin users were at less risk than other patients.
One reason that the elderly may be at an increased risk of heart attack relates to body temperature and hypothermia. As we age, our bodies begin to lose the ability to maintain normal body temperatures. As a result, they may become more susceptible to hypothermia.
Hypothermia occurs when body temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Most hypothermia deaths are caused by heart failure from the strain placed on the heart.
Just as with warm weather activities, it’s important to take steps to protect your heart during the cold weather months. Avoid heavy sudden or heavy exertion such as shoveling snow or walking in snow drifts during cold weather. It’s also important to avoid becoming damp or being in the wind as wind is particularly effective at reducing body heat since it removes the layers of heat next to the body.