Winter season in India is awaited by many as the chilly weather lets us indulge in good food and endless cups of tea and coffee. The season however may spell trouble for people with heart disease as several studies suggest increase in cardiovascular events like heart attack, heart failure, arrhythmia during winter.
As the temperature drops, our body and heart have to work extra hard to maintain a healthy body temperature. This may strain our heart and increase risk of heart failure in people whose heart function is not up to the mark.
Why winter is problematic for heart patients
“With fall in temperature, an alteration occurs in the physiology of the body to keep it warm. Low temperature tends to activate sympathetic nervous system and along with that it increases secretion of catecholamines. This in turn leads to constriction of blood vessel which thereby results in increase in heart rate, blood pressure, cholesterol levels and aggravates the blood clotting process. All these detrimental effects eventually increase the risk of heart attack,” says Dr. Atul Mathur, Executive Director, Interventional Cardiology and Chief of Cath Lab – Fortis Escorts Heart Institute, Okhla, New Delhi.
Additionally, your heart has to work harder during winter to maintain a healthy body temperature. People who are already having heart problems, those who are having high blood pressures and heavy drinkers and smokers are at increased risk during cold weather,” says Dr Charan Lanjewar, Interventional Cardiologist and Honorary Consultant at Global Hospital, Parel, Mumbai.
Dr Mathur says there are other factors like air pollution, decrease in physical activities, emotional stress, poor dietary habits and increase incidence of viral infection during winter also that increases the risk of heart attacks and failure.
“Those patients who suffer with poor heart function known as severe LV dysfunction are at much more higher risk in this season, because they have a tendency of fluid accumulation within the body that leads to difficulty in breathing,” says Dr Mathur.
The season of respiratory illnesses
Winter months are also the time when various illnesses, such as the flu and pneumonia, strike. Respiratory illnesses in particular are a real stress on the heart, especially for older people. If you have pneumonia, your oxygen is low and you have to work harder to breathe, which increases heart rate. When you’re sick like that, there’s a lot of physiological stress, says Dr Lanjewar.
“Various scientific studies done all over the world have shown an increased incidence of cardiovascular events during the winter season. This may be due to seasonal variations in the levels of vaso active peptides and well as physiological changes like increased cutaneous vasoconstriction. Hence patients with heart disease need to be extra careful during winter seasons,” says Dr Naeem Hassanfatta, Consultant Cardiologist, Wockhradt Hospital.
How to keep your heart safe during winter
* Dr Mathur advises to wear warm woolen clothes, gloves, hat to keep body warm.
* Avoid excess alcohol consumption and smoking.
* Manage your stress: Engage in hobbies and physical activities like gardening or painting. Try yoga and meditation at home. Take proper sleep in night and regular breaks from work
* Regular exercise: Daily exercise for at least 30 minutes per day is important. Avoid exercising outside early in the morning in cold temperature. Opt for indoor exercises like static cycling, treadmill, yoga etc.
* Improve diet: Avoid excessive salt and sweets in your diet. Use polyunsaturated cooking oil like safflower oil, mustard oil. Increase salad and fruits in diet.
Regular health checkup: Go for routine visit with your cardiologist and follow the advice.
* Last but not least, keep yourself positive and immediately visit to hospital in case of any emergency.
“Patients need to make sure that they need to stick to their medication and exercise schedule. Also avoid the increased levels of pollution during winters. Heart failure patients need to be evaluated by their doctors before onset of winter to assess their fluid status,” says Dr Hassanfatta.