Picture yourself on the coldest morning of the year. Maybe you’re walking your dog or shoveling snow. You can feel your body react to the temperatures. Your hands start to sting. Your eyes water against the stiff wind. And from head to toe, the arteries in your body begin to tighten.
If we could shrink down to the size of a blood cell and travel through the cardiovascular system on a cold day, what would we see?
Winding through 60,000 miles of veins, arteries and capillaries, we’d notice things slow down. 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.
We’d see the blood’s viscosity get thicker, the blood pressure increase, and the heart work harder.
How Heart Attacks Happen
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.
What About Ischemic Strokes?
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?
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.
How to Protect Yourself
If you’re 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.
Global Medical Director of Cardiology, Bayer Consumer Health
Also, avoid nicotine, alcohol, and caffeine. 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.
What are the Signs?
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
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.
Time to Call Help
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?
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.
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.