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Disease - Heart Diseases

How to protect your heart in winter

Dr Harinder Singh Bedi

Eating “sarson ka saag” and “makki ki roti” with a dollop of butter, gajjak, rewri and groundnuts, sitting around the fire, cuddling up in a warm blanket and — guess what — having a heart attack! This is something very common in winter.

In a study published in “Circulation” the journal of the American, Heart Association - researchers have found that the rate of heart disease-related deaths rises sharply between December 25 and January 7.

There is a combination of factors that increase the heart attack risk in winter:

Spasm of arteries:

When a person gets exposed to cold weather, the body’s automatic response is to narrow the blood vessels to the skin so that heat is retained . But for people who already have arteries filled with plaque, the narrowing of the blood vessels raises the risk that it will become blocked, triggering a heart attack. The problem is higher in India as we do not live in artificially regulated temperatures as in the West.

Increased blood pressure due to the narrowing leading to a strain on the heart: This has the effect of a double whammy - not only does the heart have to work harder but its blood supply is reduced. While this may be tolerated well by a normal heart, in a diseased heart it can precipitate an attack.

Thicker blood:

In cold weather, blood platelets appear to be more active and stickier and, therefore, more likely to clot. In fact, even the levels of cholesterol rise during winter.

Holiday feasting:

People tend to eat and drink more and gain more weight during the holiday season and winter months — all of which are hard on the ticker.

Unaccustomed exercise:

Every year on January 1 . millions of people join gyms as part of their New Year resolution to get in shape, and many may over-exert themselves too soon.

There is no doubt that exercise is good, but the exercise that the body is not prepared to handle is not good . Start an exercise regimen under the supervision of your doctor if you have heart disease risk factors. Beginning your new routine gradually is not only less taxing on your body, but also easier to stick to.

Increased stress hormones:

During the winter months, there is a change in the ratio of daylight hours to dark hours, which causes an increase of stress hormones such as cortisol.

Snow Shovelling:

Believe it or not, studies from Shimla show that heart attack rates jump dramatically in the first few days after a major snowstorm, usually a result of snow shovelling. One of my patients — a PT teacher at a boarding school in Shimla — suffered a heart attack as he was showing his NCC students how to work in the snow. Shovelling snow or any physical strenuous activity makes the heart work harder and raises your blood pressure.

Stressful Season:

Depression is not uncommon in winter. The holiday season for many people is a very stressful time due to family issues or financial pressure, causing anxiety, loneliness and depression and these are all linked to heart attacks. Seasonal affective disorder or SAD is caused by the lack of exposure to sunlight during the winter months.

Less daylight:

Less of sunlight in winters not only adds to depression but also lowers the levels of vitamin D (which comes from sunlight falling on the skin) - this by itself has been linked heart attacks.

Flu (Influenza):

Winter also raises your chances of getting the flu due to low humidity brought on by cold weather and indoor heating. A flu infection can cause blood pressure, stir up white blood cell activity and change C-reactive protein and fibrinogen levels in the blood - all bad news for your heart. Flu and other respiratory disease in winter cause inflammation, which in turn make the plaque less stable and may dislodge it, contributing to heart attacks. If you come down with the flu, a cold or a cough, ask your doctor before taking any over-the-counter decongestant. Those containing pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine can raise blood pressure, which can increase your chances of having a heart attack.

Delay in seeking treatment:

The risk is higher during the holidays because people commonly delay seeking treatment for symptoms during this time of the year. I vividly remember a polite elderly patient in Sydney who apologised profusely for having “disturbed” me in the holiday season with a heart attack. So, does this mean you have to fear winter and huddle indoors all the time? Not at all ! The message is not to be afraid of the winter but to know that winter is a period of increased risk and you have to look for ways to minimise that risk.

So, during the winter, try to keep your heart healthy by keeping the following pointers in mind:

  • l Stick to your normal exercise plan.
  • l Avoid very early morning walks - wait for sunrise.
  • l Wear proper attire — a thermal inner, muffler, cap, warm socks and a jacket with hood are good investments to enjoy a healthy walk. For Sikh gentlemen, a turban offers good protection to the head and ears from the cold.
  • l Start slow - the cardiovascular system can adapt to slow and progressive changes, but it has a much more difficult time adapting to sudden changes.
  • l Have a proper trained gym instructor chart, a graded exercise programme for you . Don’t aim for an SRK-6 pack in a short time.
  • l Eat a prudent diet, low in saturated fats and calories. Nuts and dry fruits can be taken in moderation if one is not overweight. Avoid fatty, fried and non-vegetarian food.
  • l Avoid tobacco , coffee , tea or alcohol just to “warm you up” — the additional nicotine and caffeine put an increased stress on the heart . “Holiday spirits” also increase blood pressure and rhythm irregularity .
  • l Skip the frantic last minute shopping trip to the mall for buying New Year gifts. Plan well in time — gifting online is a good option.
  • l Stop and smell the roses. Don’t get stressed out about preparations — take time to enjoy celebrations with family and friends .
  • l Avoid gambling on New Year. It can be stressful, harming you both financially and health-wise
  • l Know and manage your blood pressure.
  • l Don’t ignore symptoms if you are not feeling well. Doctors on duty will not mind.
  • l “Let The Sunshine In” — Sit in the sun — this improves your levels of vitamin-D.
  • l Take your medication as recommended
  • l Do not postpone doctor’s visits.

The writer, Head of the Cardio-Vascular & Thoracic Surgery Department, CMC, Ludhiana, was earlier at the St Vincents Hospital in Australia and the Escorts Heart Institute , New Delhi.

source - The Tribune - Chandigarh, Inida

Last Updated on Thursday, 30 December 2010 13:20
Content View Hits : 1467098

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