SAN FRANCISCO, Calif (KRON) – February is American Heart Month to raise awareness about heart disease and how you can prevent it.
Nearly 650,000 Americans die of heart disease every year – that’s one in every four deaths. This time of year we are also worried about the flu, especially with all the news about the Coronavirus.
Health expert, Karen Owoc, explains why winter is prime heart attack season and the connection between Heart attacks and the Flu.
Why the Flu can trigger a Heart Attack
- Heart attacks are six times more likely to occur 7 days after a flu diagnosis. (Risk increases slightly for those over 65.)
- When you have the flu, the body is under a lot of stress.
When you have the flu, the heart may need to work harder to pump blood through the lungs (which are inflamed from the infection), thus increasing the stress place on the heart.
- Flu can cause inflammation of the heart, brain or muscle tissues; and multiple organ failure.
- Flu can cause inflammation of vital organs and result in multiple organ failure.
- Inflammation may cause the plaque inside blood vessels to crack, rupture, and dislodge which could result in a blockage within an artery.
- Oxygen levels and blood pressure can drop leading to an increased risk of forming blood clots in the blood vessels that feed the heart.
- Myocarditis, the inflammation and destruction of the heart muscle tissue, can be caused by the flu and lead to rapid heart failure.
Heart Attack Season
1. Cold air temperatures. There are 53% more heart attacks in winter.
- A 16-year Swedish study of more than 280,000 patients suggests that the number of heart attacks peak in winter and that air temperature is an external trigger.
2. Cold hurts the heart. It increases blood pressure and clot formation.
- When it is cold outside, the blood vessels in your extremities (arms, hands, feet, and legs) constrict to decrease heat loss from your skin.
- The elderly are especially at risk because they have less body fat and a diminished ability to sense temperature. Wind, rain, and snow also steal body heat.
- Be wary of snow shoveling especially if you’re not a regular exerciser, have heart disease, or a chronic medical condition. Snow can be HEAVY.
Shoveling is a vigorous activity and can put strain on your heart.
- Cover your mouth and nose. Wearing a scarf allows the air to naturally get warmed before it enters your body, and thus, won’t be such a shock to your heart and lungs.
3. Mixing alcohol with cold weather. Drinking is especially dangerous when you’re out in the cold (e.g., at football games, skiing, walking at night, etc.)
- When cold, your blood vessels constrict, but when you drink alcohol, your vessels dilate (widen) causing all your body heat to go to your skin and out to the environment.
- Your skin may feel warm and make you THINK your body is warming up, but actually, your core temperature is dropping which leads to hypothermia (when the body temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit).
- Drink water in the cold – not alcohol. Water is an insulator and retains body heat. Warm water is even better.
The Takeaway: Keep warm. Avoid big changes in temperature – especially when drinking. Wear suitable clothing (layers) when going from the warm indoors to the colder outdoors, even beyond wintertime.