The Reason Heart Attacks Spike in the Winter

Researchers have found that heart attacks are more likely in below-freezing temperatures.

Looking for a reason to move to a city that’s always sunny and 75°F? Consider this for your justification: researchers have found that heart attacks are more likely to occur in frigid temperatures.

Analyzing 16 years of data on more than 280,000 heart attacks and the corresponding weather information, researchers found that the frequency of heart attacks was greater when the air temperature and atmospheric pressure were lower, wind speeds were higher, and durations of sunshine were shorter. Temperature appeared to play the greatest role in influencing the risk of heart attack: researchers noticed there was a higher incidence of heart attacks on days when the temperature dipped below freezing, but when temperatures increased to 37.4°F the frequency of heart attacks dropped. In fact, each time the temperature rose 13°F, the risk of heart attack declined by 2.8 percent.

Frigid temperatures can increase the risk of blood clots and heighten blood pressure by contracting blood vessels, leading to an increased likelihood of a heart attack. If you’re already at risk of a heart attack, bundle up when you go outdoors, which will make it less demanding for your body to stay warm and prevent the subsequent sharp increase in blood pressure and heart rate. You should also avoid strenuous activities that can raise your blood pressure, like shoveling or sledding -- if it’s absolutely necessary to dig your car out of the snow, take frequent breaks. Once you’re back indoors, sip on a hot beverage to return to a toasty temperature. But skip the coffee which has caffeine that can increase blood pressure in some people and don’t put any whiskey in your hot chocolate, as alcohol can temporarily raise blood pressure.

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