Extreme weather, either too cold or too hot, has its cardiovascular risks. Hot temperatures cause blood vessels to dilate, lowering one’s blood pressure, while elevated blood pressure can lead to heart attacks or strokes. In many cases, low blood pressure raises the risk of fainting or passing out. So how does one spot the risk factors when facing such extreme climes? Read ahead, as our own Dr. Ami Beniaminovitz gets to the heart of the matter.
When it is warm, and ambient temperatures rise, the heart has to beat faster and work harder to pump blood to the surface of your skin to assist with sweating to cool your body. If your body cannot cool itself enough, strain is put on the heart, and organs can begin to suffer damage – a potentially fatal condition known as heat stroke. Anyone can get heat stroke, but people with heart disease and other cardiovascular diseases are at greater risk. Additionally, diuretics to reduce water in the bloodstream are prescribed for many heart conditions, as are beta blockers. Each of these medications can reduce a person’s ability to cool off in the heat.
When it is cold, many people aren’t conditioned to the physical stress of vigorous outdoor activities and don’t know the potential dangers of being outdoors in cold weather. Hypothermia comes about when the body temperature has fallen below 35 degrees Celsius or about 95 degrees Fahrenheit. It occurs when your body can’t produce enough energy to keep the internal body temperature warm enough. It can kill you. Symptoms include lack of coordination, mental confusion, slowed reactions, shivering and sleepiness. Besides cold temperatures, high winds, snow, and rain also can steal body heat. The wind is especially dangerous because it removes the layer of heated air from around your body. At 30 degrees Fahrenheit in a 30-mile per hour wind, the cooling effect is equal to 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Similarly, dampness causes the body to lose heat faster than it would at the same temperature in drier conditions. People with coronary heart disease often suffer angina pectoris (chest pain or discomfort) when they’re in cold weather. The classic example is the man dying when shoveling snow.
Give yourself a break. Take frequent rest breaks during shoveling or walking outside so you don’t overstress your heart. Pay attention to how your body feels during those breaks.
Learn the heart attack warning signs and listen to your body, but remember this:
Have further questions? Schedule a consultation with one of our cardiologists or getting a stress test to assess your overall cardiovascular fitness.