Local News

Risk Of Heart Attack Rises As Temperature Falls

Posted January 16, 2004 2:45 a.m. EST

— For some, this is simply winter and a battle to stay warm. At hospitals, winter is cardiac season.

Statistics show during the cold of winter, the risk of heart attack climbs by half, and attacks are likely to be more severe than in other seasons.

"It's been shown that for every 10 degree drop in ambient temperature, that the risk of stress and heart attacks goes up," said WakeMed cardiologist Dr. Charles Mangano.

Low temperatures cause arteries to tighten and blood to clot more easily. The risk climbs even higher with what is known as the morning surge of adrenaline.

During the Dec. 2002 ice storm, emergency rooms were filled with cardiac patients. Many of those people got out early to clear away fallen trees and limbs.

"It was clear then that people were engaging in activities that were well beyond their normal scope of activities," Mangano said.

People with a history of heart problems are obviously at risk. People with silent coronary heart disease -- those who may have a family history of heart problems -- are also at risk.

Smokers, those who are overweight or have high cholesterol are also at risk -- even if they have never had a cardiac event in their lives.

"Unfortunately, the very first presentation of somebody's coronary heart disease could be sudden death," Mangano said.

Mangano advises patients to take their heart medications before they go to bed. Take it slow in the morning, leaving exercise for later in the day.

It is also important to stay warm. Those at risk for heart problems wear a hat and gloves and dress in layers when going outdoors.