Snowstorms and Heart Disease


If you are a heart patient you might be concerned about how the cold weather affects your heart.  The body constricts blood flow to the skin to conserve heat, which also raises blood pressure. Many experience angina when active in cold weather.

Advice for how to manage angina related to cold includes:

  • Do a warm up indoors to dilate the blood vessels and get heart rate slightly elevated before outdoor exertion
  • Create a zone of warmer air to breath by using a scarf, mask or parka
  • Avoid large meals and alcohol before exerting outdoors. Blood flow gets diverted and doesn’t go to the heart or exercising muscles instead it works to digest the food.
  • Discuss using nitroglycerine before activity with your healthcare practitioner. Using the nitro to dilate the vessels prior to cold air exposure is a method used by some.

Snow Shoveling for Heart Patients

  • Warm up, do some light exertion to dilate the blood vessels and get the heart rate slightly elevated before really “digging out”
  • Dress appropriately in layers, when you feel warm take layers off. Preventing overheating from being overdressed is as  important as dressing for the cold. Your heart  works harder to cool your body down. Sweating excessively will lead to being cold later.
  • Do not eat a large meal or smoke prior to shoveling, these divert the blood flow away from the heart and exercising muscles.
  • Push the snow don’t lift if  you can.
  • Exhale on Exertion.  Breath out when pushing or lifting, don’t hold your breath!!!! Holding breath increases blood pressure even further than the cold and exercise already has.
  • Switch sides keep alternating the shovel in left and right hand. The constant twist to one side produces muscle injury and can be hard to distinguish between muscles and heart. Muscle pain can be reproduced with touch or movement, whereas heart pain cannot be reproduced by touch.
  • Take breaks, listen to your body don’t over do it. The body constricts blood flow to the skin to conserve heat, which also raises blood pressure.
  • Stay fit enough to shovel snow. If you don’t exercise regularly you are not strong enough to shovel wet heavy snow. The cardiovascular demands are even more due to excessive cold temperatures. Train for snow shoveling by performing aerobic exercise and resistance training.
  • If you have symptoms STOP

Dealing with Raynauds in the cold weather

Raynaud’s occurs when the fingers and/or toes come into contact with cold. Beta blockers medications actually can aggravate Raynaud’s by leading to increased blood vessel spasm. This class of drugs, used to treat high blood pressure and heart disease, includes metoprolol (Lopressor, Toprol XL), nadolol (Corgard) and propranolol (Inderal, Innopran XL). It is important to cover your feet and hands before they get cold with warm gloves and socks. Make sure they are not too tight allow for circulation. Prevent the symptoms by creating a barrier between your skin and the cold. Even if you are only going out for a short while keep your fingers covered and wear warm foot protection. Frostbite occurs much quicker in persons with Raynaud’s.

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Atrial Fibrillation is more common in Winter

The likelihood of being admitted to hospital or dying with atrial fibrillation, a life-threatening chaotic heartbeat common among the elderly, increases dramatically during winter months. Atrial Fibrillation is common in persons with heart disease. Be alert for symptoms of irregular heart rhythm, increased shortness of breath, increased fatigue. Additional factors contributing to the winter connection to atrial fibrillation  may include drinking too much alcohol which leads to high blood pressure, heart failure, and possibly even stroke due to the  atrial fibrillation.

http://www.hearthealthywomen.org/am-i-at-risk/am-i-at-risk/hfother2.html

http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/raynaud/

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