Winter effects on your heart

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
  • 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.
  • 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.

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 reproduced with touch or movement, where as heart pain cannot be set of 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 spasmThis 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.


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.

8 thoughts on “Winter effects on your heart

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  3. Fantastic overview here – thanks for gems like: “Stay fit enough to shovel snow. If you don’t exercise regularly you are not strong enough to shovel wet heavy snow.” Bingo!

    I wrote about this a few years ago after four men in Ottawa – ages 45-72 – all had heart attacks, all on the same afternoon, and all while shovelling snow:

    As a heart attack survivor with ongoing cardiac issues including significant angina, a piece of advice I will certainly take myself (first time reading it here) is: “Do a warm up indoors to dilate the blood vessels and get heart rate slightly elevated before outdoor exertion!” Brilliant – now why didn’t I think of that? Luckily, I live here on the beautiful and balmy west coast of Canada where our winter temps are nothing like those of the Niagara Falls climate I grew up in, but a cold day here (anywhere close to freezing) can still feel truly debilitating.

    • Of all people I am so glad to find a tip to offer you. Yes I am from the cold Northern Michigan area, and last year we certainly had a heart attack snowfall when we had 18 inches of HEAVY snow in one night. Our cardiac units at the hospital were completely full. This differs from our lake effect light and fluffy snow. The typical scenerio is eat a big breakfast, smoke a cigarette, overdress and shovel snow…that is good for business if you are a cardiologist or a mortician. So trying to save a couple of lives through the post.

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