Harvard Heart Letter

Heart Beat: Baby, it's cold outside

Heart Beat

Baby, it's cold outside

Winter is a tough time for the heart. For some reason, heart attacks and sudden deaths related to heart disease seem to happen more frequently during the winter than in any other season. In northern latitudes, the winter peak has been blamed on cold, snow shoveling, changing temperatures, and even air pressure. A study that linked detailed hospital records with daily weather information between 1979 and 2002 fingers cold itself as the main culprit, at least in Minnesota and other winter wonderlands.

In Olmsted County, home of the Mayo Clinic, sudden cardiac deaths were more common on days the mercury went below freezing than at any other time. The connection was strongest for out-of-the-blue sudden cardiac deaths in people who had not previously been diagnosed with heart disease. Myocardial infarctions (heart attacks) were spread out more evenly over the year.

Heavy snow was connected with sudden cardiac deaths only in men, which the researchers guessed might be the consequence of snow shoveling by men who didn't ordinarily exercise. The results were published in the July 18, 2006, Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

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