Extreme Cold Can Trigger Heart Attack And Stroke

The extreme cold winter conditions that can put people at greater risk-male and female-not only for hypothermia and frostbite, but also for stroke, heart attack and asthma flare-ups.

In the winter and cold-weather season, heart attacks can increase by over 50 percent. During cold weather, the arteries naturally constrict or tighten, and can increase people's blood pressure, along with their risk for stroke. People who suffer from high blood pressure should take extra precautions when dressing for freezing temperatures.

In a recent news release, Dr. Kevin Marzo, chief of cardiology at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, N.Y., explained that when people face freezing temperatures, their arteries constrict. Narrow arteries can reduce blow flow throughout the body and put stress on the heart. Dr. Marzo emphasized that for older people, potentially harmful effects of the cold can be even more serious.

As far as asthma flare-ups, cold weather often creates cold, dry air. When inhaled by an asthma sufferer, the cold air can lead to bronchospasms, or contractions of the air passages in their lungs. Dr. Marzo from Winthrop-University Hospital advises that anyone with asthma should take their medication before they engage in a physical activity outside-and that includes anything from skiing to shoveling snow.

Anyone with circulatory problems should avoid outdoor exercise during extreme cold. For instance, in people suffering from Raynaud's disease, extreme cold temperatures cause spasms in the blood vessels and cut off circulation to fingers and toes.

Hypothermia is the body’s reaction to exposure to freezing temperatures, resulting in abnormally low body temperature. When this happens, brain function is affected, and as a result, people don’t think clearly or move well-which can lead to poor decision-making and an increase in falls.

The following symptoms are warning signs for hypothermia:

  • Shivering
  • Exhaustion
  • Confusion
  • Fumbling hands
  • Memory loss
  • Slurred speech
  • Drowsiness

Anyone with signs of hypothermia should receive emergency medical attention, especially if their body temperature falls below 95 degrees. Unfortunately, medical attention can be delayed or not available. In this case, the person should be moved to a shelter or a warm room; wet clothing should be removed. Emergency first aid always dictates that the center of the body is warmed first with heated blankets or skin-to-skin contact under layers of dry blankets, sheets or towels. Warm drinks can help a person with hypothermia, as long as they are not alcoholic beverages. It’s a dangerous myth that alcohol can warm the body more quickly-actually, it has the opposite reaction. Alcohol can cause the body to lose heat more rapidly. It’s recommend that victims be given warm, sweet beverages such as hot chocolate to help maintain their body temperature.

Exposure to freezing temperatures can also lead to frostbite, causing numbness and a loss of color in the affected areas. In extreme cases, it can permanently damage the body, and result in amputation. Areas that are especially vulnerable are the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers or toes. Anytime the skin becomes numb, appears red, white or grayish-yellow or feels unusually firm or waxy, it's time to protect yourself by getting out of the cold and get inside to warm up.

Extreme cold weather can be dangerous for those not wearing the correct clothing. Extreme cold conditions can cause frostbite, hypothermia, or even death. To avoid unnecessary suffering in extreme cold conditions, the U.S. Antarctic Program recommends that you wear a series of layers designed to keep wind, rain and snow away from your skin during extreme cold weather.

Warm Ideas for Cold Weather Dressing-For Adults and Kids:

  • Wear a base of long thermal underwear (long-johns and a long-sleeved top.) Choose thermal underwear made from polypropylene, which is the thickest thermal material available-or wear wool or silk if you prefer natural fibers. Layer two pairs of thick socks to keep your feet warm.

  • Add a second layer of fleece, down or woolen clothing. Thick fleecy pants and a wool sweater will add an intermediate level of warmth. Choose lightweight clothes that will not weigh you down, and avoid cotton as it absorbs moisture and does not dry out easily in cold weather, which means it could freeze in extreme weather conditions.

  • Finish with a windproof and waterproof jacket and outer pants. Avoid outerwear with a loose weave that allows wind to get through. Choose a jacket with a hood to help protect your head. The type of outerwear you'll need depends on the type of conditions you're dealing with; dry cold weather requires different outerwear than humid cold weather.

  • Add a scarf, mittens and a hat. Mittens offer more warmth than gloves because your fingers can touch each other and give off more heat. Wear a scarf over your mouth, which will help protect your lungs. Alternatively, choose a balaclava or a neck gaiter rather than a scarf; they will help keep your face warm, as well as your neck and lungs.

  • Wear thick-soled boots to keep your feet warm. Pick a size that will allow for your thick socks. Look for a shoe or boot that has good traction, is waterproof and has a warm lining.

To stay warm in the extreme cold, it's also important to stay dry. Even sweat can increase heat loss, so wet or unnecessary layers should be removed.

Finally, Dr. Marzo’s recent news release advises you to listen to your body. Shivering is often your first sign that you’re losing heat and it's time to get inside! Don’t forget to eat a well-balanced meal, another key to staying warm when it's cold outside.

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