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Winters & Pollution Risk for Cardiac Patients

  • 50% rise in cardiac problems during winters
  • Pollution and winters: a dangerous combination for people with high blood pressure, blood coagulation history, breathing problem and more
  • Hypothermia risk increases heart failure risk as well
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a form of depression majorly caused during winters

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. India is facing an epidemic of coronary heart disease. In countries like India the disease is starting and affecting younger population as compared to people of Western countries. As compared to people of Western world, Indians have shorter height and lesser weight and the coronary arteries tend to be smaller in size. Due to this smaller size of the coronary vessels even lesser amounts of blockages in the heart coronary arteries can lead to devastating heart attacks and angina (chest pain due to heart disease).

This is the ideal time to give serious thought to the matters of the heart. Heart attacks and angina are more common in winter months in India. December and January can be dangerous time for people with heart problems. The causes for this extra risk for heart attacks and cardiac death during winter months are not exactly known. Factors like cold weather, stress and dietary changes can contribute to the chain of events leading to more stress on the heart culminating in Heart Attacks. Cold weather contracts blood vessels and raises the blood pressure which puts more stress on the heart. Changes in diet and alcohol consumption during winter months especially during travel may be a contributing cause.

In order to be safe from cardiac problems or at least reduce the risk of cardiac problems, people should try to keep themselves as warm as possible with the help of warm clothes, bon fires, warm baths. These help in maintaining the normal body temperature during the winters and minimizes the chances of hypothermia, blood coagulation, angina. One should also try and incorporate the habit of eating less quantity, while improving the quality and frequency of the meals. This helps in reducing the pressure of heart and other parts of the body and to reduce lethargy, which is common during winters. People with prior medical history of cardiac ailments should be prepared for winters and be mindful of small symptoms of heart attack like chest pain, left arm pain, dizziness, sudden fatigue, fever, breathlessness and more.

Developing a heart healthy lifestyle is important to prevent and control coronary heart diseases. Regular exercise, reducing stress, control of blood pressure and blood sugar are very important. Maintain ideal weight, as extra weight is bad for the heart making it work harder. To maintain a healthy weight, eat a heart-healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean fish. Oatmeal can help lower the levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol, while salmon fish contains unsaturated fats that can help reduce the blood pressure. Avoid foods rich in sodium, canned and processed food and fried food. Lastly, learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of heart disease such as shortness of breath and chest discomfort.

During cold weather the heart has to work harder to keep the body warm. This puts tremendous demand on the heart which may not be able to cope up. If one has to go outside in cold weather, dress in layers, don’t over-exert self and limit time outside. People must be careful about physical activity in extreme cold weather and consider healthy indoor activities. People who have survived a heart attack or who have heart disease should not go outside at all in extreme cold weather.

Dr. Abhay Kumar
Director
Dept of Cardio Thoracic and Vascular Surgery

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