‘Risk of heart emergencies significantly higher in winter’

In the year 2018-19, a total of 53 patients were admitted to Manipal Hospital on Old Airport Road in Bengaluru with Acute Coronary Syndrome (ACS) during April, May and June.

However, the number of patients admitted to the same hospital with ACS during November, December and January rose to 74, marking an increase of about 40% in the winter.

A webinar organised by Manipal Hospital in association with the Mysuru District Journalists’ Association (MDJA) sought to lay emphasis on the increased risk of heart attack and cardiac arrest in winter, especially among the elderly population and those with pre-existing heart conditions.

Independent risk factor

During the webinar, Ranjan Shetty, consultant for Interventional Cardiology at the hospital, said cold weather is an independent risk factor for heart emergencies.

“Mounting evidence suggests that the risk of suffering a heart attack and cardiac arrest increases significantly in winters, especially in the elderly population and those with pre-existing heart conditions such as coronary artery disease, heart rhythm problems, and congenital heart diseases. A family history of coronary artery disease or presence of risk factors such as cigarette smoking, obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and hypercholesterolemia can also increase one’s chances of suffering a sudden heart problem considerably in the winter season,” he said.

Physiological changes

Several physiological changes to keep our body warm during the cold season can be blamed for the increased risk of heart problems in winters, he said.

“First of all, our heart has to work harder to keep our body warm in the winters. This increases the blood pressure and heart rate and also increases the oxygen demand of the heart itself for efficient functioning. Though a normal healthy heart can adjust to these changes, a person with a diseased heart may find it difficult to cope up with this extra workload,” said Dr. Shetty.

Evidence also suggests that our blood flow is sluggish in the winter months, with a higher propensity for blood clots and cholesterol build up inside the vessel, an important cause of artery blockage and heart emergencies, he said.

Dr. Shetty suggested that keeping oneself warm, without the risk of being overheated, is one of the best ways to keep heart problems at bay.

“Engaging in strenuous exercise increases the workload of the heart suddenly and the blood flow to the heart might fall significantly in a patient with blocked arteries,” he warned, before advising patients to stay indoors as much as possible, besides exercising indoors, avoiding strenuous exercise, and wearing caps, socks and gloves to keep themselves warm.

Regular check-up

Dr. Shetty also pointed out that the number of patients dying from heart disease at home has also increased drastically during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as many were keeping away from the hospital despite experiencing symptoms of heart trouble.

Hence, he said patients with established risk factors or heart problems should not stay away from regular check-ups if they had been skipping them during the pandemic.

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