Cold Weather & Cardiovascular Health
The annual ending certainly entails drops in temperatures and the much awaited, or rather dreaded, snowfall in various areas. As beautiful as this phenomenon is, heaps of this white dust calls for some extra labor. For majority of the population, shoveling snow might not be that much of a strain; but for some, this task can be quite arduous and potentially risky. Therefore, it is important to about how the cold season can impact your health, especially if you suffer from cardiovascular disease. Such individuals should be extra cautious when outdoors in cold weather and should sidestep laborious tasks, like shoveling snow for one.
How does cold weather affect the heart?
As it gets cold, the heart has to work even more in order to keep the body warm. The heart, which has already been pumping blood tirelessly since the beginning of a being, has to further ensure that the rest of the body stays at the optimum temperature during the cold. Physical exertion on top of this cold weather puts even more strain on the organ. For young and healthy individuals, this might not be that big of a deal. But there are people who aren’t conditioned to such stresses. Vigorous outdoor activities in such weather conditions could be fatal in many cases.
People with coronary heart disease often suffer angina pectoris (chest pain or discomfort) when they are exposed to the cold. As the temperature drops, the blood vessels tend to constrict and limit blood flow, resulting in the heart muscles not getting as much blood as they require function properly. This leads to the heart striving to pump more blood and thus, adversely affecting the already damaged organ.
The elderly and children are at increased risk because they may have impaired mobility and restricted capability to communicate any issue they are experiencing. Elderly people could suffer more as they tend to have lesser subcutaneous fat, which serves an important means to store energy and insulate the body.
Other Potential Complications
People can also suffer from accidental hypothermia if the correct precautions are not taken. Hypothermia is a condition where the body temperature falls below 35 degrees Celsius or about 95 degrees Fahrenheit, which is known as the optimum temperature of the body. It results from the body not being able to produce enough energy to keep the itself warm. It is imperative to maintain this internal temperature since all our biological functions depend on chemical components that are temperature sensitive. Therefore, when the body temperature drops too low, a series of physiological functions are affected, which can lead to lack of coordination, mental confusion, slowed reactions, shivering, sleepiness and ultimately death.
Besides cold temperatures, high winds, snow and rain can also lower the body heat. Wind is particularly notorious as it removes the heated air surrounding your body. The cooling effect of winds at 30 miles per hour and 30 degrees Fahrenheit is equivalent to the cold feeling at 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Similarly, humidity can cause the body to lose heat faster than it would at the same temperature in drier conditions.
To stay warm, wear multiple layers of clothing. This causes the air to become trapped between the layers, forming a protective padding. Wearing a hat or scarf is also advised as heat can be lost through the head as well. Ears are particularly prone to frostbite and the fingers are sneaky sources to give away heat, so earmuffs and gloves are must haves.
Few practical tips To help make snow removal safer
1) Take recurrent breaks during shoveling to rest and over-stressing your heart. Be wary of how your body feels during those breaks – shortness of breath, light headedness, fatigue indicates you need to stop.
2) Read about the heart attack warning signs and listen to your body. Even if you feel it is not a heart attack or are unsure about it, do visit a physician if you experience any symptom. And if you are certain about an attack, dial 911 immediately.
3) Avoid drinking alcoholic beverages before or immediately after shoveling. Alcohol could increase a person’s sensation of warmth which could cause them to misjudge the additional strain their body is under in the cold.
4) Before exercising in the cold weather, consult a doctor if you have any medical concern or if you experience any relevant symptoms of a medical condition (such as heart disease or diabetes).
5) Be aware of the risks of hypothermia. To avoid hypothermia, wear layers of warm clothing and accessories for better insulation.
6) Learn Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR). Proper bystander CPR provided instantly after a sudden cardiac arrest, can significantly increase the chances of survival of an individual. Hands-only CPR also enables saving lives. If you see an adult collapsing unexpectedly, call 911 and start pressing the middle of the victim’s chest with enough force and in a rhythmic pattern until help arrives.
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