Cold weather poses danger for those with heart disease, also known as coronary artery disease (CAD), for a variety of reasons. It can elevate heart rate, enhance the risk of clots and increase blood pressure.
Winter also raises your chances of getting the flu due to low humidity brought on by cold weather and indoor heating. It's an illness more apt to cause death among people with CAD, but if you come down with the flu, a cold or a cough, ask your doctor before taking any over-the-counter decongestants. Those containing pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine can raise blood pressure, which can increase your chances for heart attack.
Patients with heart disease and all older people should also be mindful of hypothermia, which happens when your body can't keep its internal temperature to at least 95 degrees. Hypothermia -- which can be fatal -- include signs such as clumsiness, confusion, sleepiness and shivering.
Take It Easy, Dress Warmly
Other cold-weather threats stem not so much from the weather itself, but from activities associated with it.
Just walking through snowdrifts can put stress on your heart. So you can imagine how much strain shoveling snow produces, especially if your heart is weakened. After heart surgery, patients are advised to abstain from shoveling snow for three months and to avoid all outdoor activities when the temperature or wind chill goes below zero degrees.
Taking the following precautions can help ward off winter hazards:
- Get a flu shot.
- When you have to brave the cold, layer your clothing and wear a hat or scarf, mittens or gloves and appropriate footwear.
- If you must shovel, scoop fresh, not packed snow. Push, rather than lift, and fill the shovel to only half full or less. Stop when the exertion feels more than "somewhat difficult."
- Avoid alcohol before going outdoors. It expands blood vessels in the skin, making you feel warmer while actually drawing heat away from organs.
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