Frigid weather a threat to those with heart disease

Temperatures across the Midwest have plummeted to downright dangerous lows, especially for people with cardiovascular problems. Recently, the American Heart Association reminded Americans that extreme cold weather can affect the heart in several ways.

For one, studies have suggested that cold weather can result in heart attacks caused by overexertion. The most common example of this is a heart attack suffered while shoveling snow in frigid weather. Even walking through heavy or wet snow could strain a person's heart and put the person at risk of a cardiac event.

A person with heart disease may also suffer chest pain or discomfort, known as angina pectoris, in cold temperatures, the American Heart Association reports.

Additionally, hypothermia can pose a real threat to those with heart problems. While we have all heard the term "hypothermia," most aren't aware that heart failure is the main cause of death during hypothermia.

In order to stay safe, the American Heart Association has the following tips:

Avoid sudden exertion while outdoors in cold weather.

Know the symptoms of hypothermia, including lack of coordination, mental confusion, slowed reaction times, shivering and sleepiness.

Dress for the weather by wearing layers of clothing that provide better insulation. A hat, scarf and gloves or mittens can help keep extremities warm.

Don't drink alcohol as it causes the blood vessels in the skin to expand which draws heat away from the body's vital organs, including the heart.

Call 9-1-1 if you or someone around you appears to be suffering from hypothermia or a heart attack. Doing so can mean the difference between life and death.

Source: Fox 28, "Cold weather and cardiovascular disease: Lifesaving tips," Jan. 6, 2013

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