Cold can be quite tough on the heart. Changes in air temperature and pressure have been found to increase hospitalization and death rates in those with a predisposed heart condition, according to a recent study in Environment International.

“We know that doctors rarely take the weather forecast into account when treating or making recommendations to heart failure patients,” said Prof. Pierre Gosselin, lead author of the study from Universitié Laval in Canada. “So with the extreme differences in temperature due to climate change, we wanted to show how the weather is becoming a more relevant factor. Our study shows that exposure to cold or high-pressure weather could trigger events leading to hospitalization or death in heart failure patients.”

Researchers measured the temperature, humidity, air pressure and pollutants in the surrounding environment and studied the data to see if there was a correlation.

The primary results of the study “observed an increased risk of hospitalizations and deaths for [heart failure] with a decrease in the average temperature of the 3 and 7 days before the event. An increase in atmospheric pressure in the previous 7 days was also associated with a higher risk of having a [heart failure] negative outcome.”

In addition, a separate study found that heart defibrillator patients were 26 percent more likely to receive an unnecessary shock to the heart during extremely cold days (14 degrees F or colder).

Weather a Risk for Heart Failure
Weather and Other Variables

Cold conditions may be just one of many factors related to heart failure. No matter what temperature and time of year overall health, eating habits, exercise and genetics may also play a factor in heart health. Other data suggests less daylight in winter may cause changes in the hormone cortisol, which can lower the threshold for a heart attack. Individuals suffering from depression may also experience heart attacks during the winter months based on lack of interaction with others, weight gain, and decreased mental abilities.

When battling heart disease in cold weather climates check out the basic safety tips below to lower your risk of heart failure.

  • Avoid overexertion, including when shoveling snow
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Keep yourself and your clothes dry
  • Watch for frostbite, and seek medical attention immediately if symptoms are present
  • Dress warmly in loose-fitting, layered, lightweight clothing
  • Wear a hat. Most body heat is lost through the top of your head
  • Wear mittens that are tight at the wrist
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a scarf