Heart Health

How winter’s chill can challenge your heart

A few simple precautions can minimize your risk.

winter chill challenge your heart
 Image: robertiez/Thinkstock

Every time you venture out into the bone-shivering, teeth-chattering cold of a Northern winter, your heart and blood vessels kick into overdrive to keep your internal organs cozy. To accomplish this feat, the tiny blood vessels in outlying areas such as the fingers and toes constrict to stem the loss of body heat into the environment. The flip side of this protective maneuver is that the heart must beat against extra force to overcome the resistance it meets in the narrowed vessels.

Supply and demand mismatch

Smart precautions

You can minimize the impact of cold weather on your heart by taking steps to avoid situations that are likely to put you at risk.

Don't overexert. Remember that your heart is already working overtime to compensate for the cold temperatures. Therefore, don't push yourself with strenuous activities such as shoveling heavy snow or partaking in vigorous outdoor exercise unless you are in good physical shape.

Keep your body temperature steady. Put on warm outerwear including coat, gloves, and hat before facing the elements. This will guard against hypothermia, in which the body's internal temperature falls too low. Likewise, dress in layers that you can peel off if you get too warm. Overheating can lead to an abrupt and potentially dangerous drop in blood pressure.

Get a flu shot. A bout of seasonal flu can trigger a heart attack in people already at risk for heart disease. The flu causes a fever, which can make your heart beat faster. It can also cause dehydration, which can have a similar effect as the heart beats faster to maintain your blood pressure.

Keep your prescriptions filled. Icy conditions can make it difficult to get to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription, so make sure not to let your supply of heart medicines run low.

Heed the warning signs




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