While most of us are aware of the common issues that older adults face in winters like cold and flu, very few of us know that heart diseases are also very common in winters. Many studies have been conducted to show that there is a significant increase in the number of heart attacks in winters among older adults. Some of these attacks could also prove fatal. Seniors in the age group of 75-84 are most vulnerable to temperature changes. In fact, a newspaper recently reported over 200 deaths in Gwalior due to heart attacks in winter.
What is the likelihood of an older adult to have a heart attack in winter?
The risk of suffering a heart attack is likely to become higher in the winters because of the colder temperature. The temperature acts as an external trigger and aggravates any heart disorders you might have. Even if your heart is healthy, you are at a marginally higher risk to suffering from a heart attack due to the cold weather.
In places where the daily temperature is less than 5 degree Celsius, there is a greater occurrence of heart attacks in older adults as compared to those in locations with temperatures of more than 10 degree Celsius. When the temperature dips to below 5 degrees, the average number of heart attacks increased to four per day, according to an analysis. The occurrence of heart attacks also increased when the wind velocities were higher, sunlight was limited and the air was more humid.
Why does this happen?
The body has its own set of defences when faced with extremely cold conditions. It usually constricts the superficial blood vessels to decrease the thermal conduction in the skin. In other words, it tries to decrease blood supply in the superficial blood vessels to conserve heat as the body loses heat through the skin. In turn, the arterial blood flow increases.
This increases blood pressure and heart rate, which raise the metabolism and increase body temperature. Shivering is also a method of increasing body temperature by causing movement and constriction of the muscles.
In most people, these changes occur organically and the person is not aware of such changes. However, in older adults, the heart is already in a weaker state due to aging. Many older adults also have disorders like atherosclerosis (fat and mineral deposits in coronary arteries) or a history of stroke or heart attack. Some of them may also have respiratory disorders like asthma, bronchitis, and COPD. Colder months also bring on diseases like influenza and pneumonia that are risk factors for heart attacks.
In addition to these, doctors frequently see dietary changes and reduced physical activity during winters. Often, older adults slip into seasonal depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in winters that lead them to neglect their health. These reasons could increase the chances of heart attacks in winters.
Also Read: Can you drink alcohol with Heart Disease?
How can we prevent it?
Simple lifestyle changes can go a long way in preventing heart attacks in winters.
- Monitor and regulate your diabetes and blood pressure
- Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol intake
- Keep yourself hydrated
- Dress warmly at all times
- Protect yourself from pollution
- Get regular health check-ups
- Eat vitamin D rich food or take vitamin D supplements prescribed by your doctor
- Include plenty of seasonal fruits and vegetables
- Reduce fat intake and include more healthy fats in your diet
What are your views on this article? What steps do you take to keep your heart healthy in winters? Do let us know in the comments.
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