Heart Attack and Stroke Warning Signs

Heart Attack and Stroke: The Impact of Cold Weather and Recognizing Warning Signs

Man Shoveling Snow

Did you know that the human circulatory system consists of an intricate network of approximately 60,000 miles (96,560 kilometers) of veins, arteries and capillaries? This extensive vascular network transports important nutrients, oxygen and hormones throughout the body while removing waste products.

As the winter months arrive and temperatures drop, the cold can have an impact on our health. This does not just include colds, but research shows there is also a complex interaction between cold temperatures and cardiovascular health that can increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes. But what are the warning signs, who is at risk and how can you protect yourself?

On cold winter days, changes occur in our cardiovascular system: blood vessels narrow — a condition called vasoconstriction — which is the body’s attempt to direct warm blood toward vital internal organs and away from the skin where it could be dangerously cooled.


The blood’s viscosity get thicker, the blood pressure increase, and the heart work harder to maintain essential organ function in the face of external cold.

Blood is pushed away from extremities on cold winter days.
Blood is pushed away from extremities on cold winter days.

What is the difference between a heart attack and stroke?

It's important to differentiate between a heart attack and a stroke. While a heart attack effects the heart, ischemic strokes occur when blood clots block blood flow to the brain.

What Happens in our Body During a Heart Attack?

The heart is a muscle — a remarkably energetic one — that requires a lot of oxygen to work well. In cold weather, the blood vessels carrying blood to the heart itself can constrict, meaning that, as more is demanded of it, it’s receiving less and less replenishment.


This can lead to a heart attack for those at risk.


One study published in 2015, found up to a 31% increase in heart attacks in the coldest months of the year compared with the warmest.

Link Between Cold Weather and Ischemic Stroke

An ischemic stroke happens when a blood clot keeps blood from reaching and nourishing the brain. The same factors that make heart attacks more common in cold weather also lead to a higher risk of strokes. 


Simply put, tighter blood vessels and thicker blood raise the risk of clotting.

Who’s Most at Risk For a Heart Attack or Stroke?

Certain groups have a higher risk of a heart attack or stroke. These include: 

  • The elderly
  • Patients with obesity
  • Patients with hypertension
  • Patients with heart disease
  • Patients with high cholesterol

Your doctor is the best to tell you whether you face increased risk.

Heart Attack and Stroke Prevention

For those at risk of a heart attack or stroke, experts recommend avoiding excess physical stress in cold temperatures.

Take it easy and start slow. The cardiovascular system can adapt to slow and progressive changes, but it has a much more difficult time adapting suddenly.
Gerhard Albrecht
Global Medical Director of Cardiology, Bayer Consumer Health

Also, avoiding nicotine, alcohol, and caffeine is recommended. Be alert to any sign suggestive of an acute ongoing heart attack, and if you experience them, call emergency services immediately and chew aspirin as soon as possible, according to a physician’s instructions.


Your heart works harder in this time of year, and it’s not from all the love.
Your heart works harder in cold temperatures, and it’s not from all the love.

Recognizing the Signs for Heart Attack and Stroke

Recognizing the critical signs of a heart attack and ischemic stroke is crucial for prompt action and seeking timely medical assistance. Although the symptoms may vary, being aware of the warning signs can make a significant difference in emergency situations.


Heart Attack:

  • Sudden pain or tightness in the chest, neck, back, arms or jaw
  • Sudden shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort
  • Nausea and cold sweats
  • Sudden stomach pain
  • Sudden lightheadedness or sweating
  • Fatigue

Important note: not everyone gets all of the symptoms. So, call emergency services if you have any type of chest discomfort, especially if you also have one or more of the other signs.


Ischemic Stroke:

Strokes affect millions of people worldwide every year. But how to recognize a stroke  and what are the typical symptoms? 


Think F.A.S.T.

  • Face Drooping
  • Arm Weakness
  • Speech Difficulty
  • Time to Call Help

Other Signs

  • Confusion
  • Blindness or blurry vision in one or both eyes
  • Difficulty getting around, dizziness, loss of balance, or coordination
  • Severe, unexplained headache

How Can Aspirin™ Help Your Heart Health?

Aspirin™ inhibits clotting by working to keep blood platelets from sticking together. This means blood can flow more easily while patients seek further medical help during a heart attack or stroke.

Vasoconstriction is natural in cold temperatures, but for those at greater risk, it can lead to heart attack or stroke.
Vasoconstriction is natural in cold temperatures, but for those at greater risk, it can lead to a heart attack or stroke.

Heart attacks and strokes often come as a surprise. But with the help of decades of scientific innovation, we can help reduce the risk of these life-threatening emergencies.

Learn more about heart attack prevention

Doctors sometimes recommend an Aspirin™ regimen for heart attack survivors to help prevent another incident. Talk with your doctor about lifestyle and medical interventions to reduce your risk for a heart attack or stroke.


Many of us are stepping into the winter months with our heart on our mind. If you or a loved one are at increased risk for a cardiovascular event, take precautions, know the signs, and keep Aspirin™ nearby

4 min read