Is Winter Really Heart Attack Season?

We often hear of a person being rushed to the hospital with a heart attack after shoveling snow. Is snow shoveling really dangerous for seniors? It turns out that the extra exertion and the heavy weight of the snow are both culprits, as might be expected. However, a study from Pennsylvania State University shows that cold air itself puts extra stress on the heart, contributing to winter being peak season for deaths resulting from cardiac arrest.

According to Penn State College of Medicine researchers, breathing cold air during exercise can cause uneven distribution of oxygen distribution throughout the heart. In the bodies of people whose hearts are healthy, blood flow is redistributed and the heart continues to function properly. But for a person with a heart problem, such as coronary artery disease, the body may be unable to send enough oxygen to the heart. Says Professor Lawrence I. Sinoway, “If you are doing some type of isometric work and you’re breathing cold air, your heart is doing more work—it’s consuming more oxygen.”

The research team studied heart and lung function in a group of health people in their 20s and 60s to get a better picture of the way cold air affects the heart’s oxygen supply. Dr. Matthew D. Muller of the college’s Heart and Vascular Institute explains, “There are two different things going on here—demand and supply. We thought that oxygen demand in the heart would be higher with cold-air breathing and we also thought that oxygen supply would be a little impaired. And that’s generally what we found.”

The researchers also cautioned that other cold-weather efforts may stress the heart, even activities like carrying a briefcase or laptop bag.  

The full study is to be found in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

Source: Assisting Hands Home Care in association with IlluminAge AgeWise with excerpts from Pennsylvania State University.