Heart attacks rise in the winter, study shows
Winter often brings the flu, coughs, ski injuries and shoveling strains and add to these ailments a more deadly one is heart attacks.
A recent study has found that more fatal heart attacks and strokes occur during the winter than at other times of the year. And it doesn't seem to matter if the winter is occurring in the warmer climes of
The worst months are December, January, February and the beginning of March, Health news reported.
The doctors analyzed the cause of death for people in
The research uncovered patterns in cardiac deaths from 'seven different climate patterns,' according to the study, and 'death rates at all sites clustered closely together and no one site was statistically different from any other site.' An abstract of the study was published in the
Why winter months saw a spike in cardiac deaths isn't clear - whether it's cooling temperatures, shorter days, or something else about that time of year. Kloner speculates that winter presents a potential confluence of harmful triggers. Even if you 'adapt to where you are, the cold still bothers you and not just the temperature,' Kloner says. And 'respiratory infection may be important. When there are peaks in influenza and infection, [there are peaks] in heart-related deaths.'
There also can be emotional stress in winter months as families come together for the holidays or to watch highly charged sporting events such as the
He assumed that more people died in the winter in colder regions. He thought those colder temperature could cause heart-related events because blood vessels constrict in the cold, which might set off cardiac death, he said. But during the time frame of his study, the average temperature in
'The thing about the winter statistics which is kind of interesting,' Mittleman said, is that 'we see similar patterns in different places. There are more cardiac deaths in the Northern Hemisphere in December, January and February, and in the Southern Hemisphere in June and July.
Heart attacks and strokes result from a complicated cascade of events often set off by a trigger - stress, the misuse of drugs, tobacco or alcohol, a heavy meal, the flu, even an earthquake or environmental pollution - that interrupts the body's normal systems.
Most cardiac deaths, according to
As we age, plaque forms into nodules of yellowish pus and cholesterol, much like a pimple, on artery walls, Stone said. A thin, fibrous seal, like a cap, keeps these nodules intact. The yellowish nodules come and go, as a pimple does.
'That thin cap is what keeps us alive,' Stone said. 'I have been working for 20 years to figure out why plaque gets fragile and if we can predict which plaque will get fragile in the future and intervene.'
The amount of plaque people accumulate depends on their genetic background, what they eat, how they live and factors that can increase risk, such as having high cholesterol or diabetes, smoking cigarettes, and being physically inactive and overweight, Stone said.
'All of these act individually and in concert to increase the odds that plaque will rupture,' he said. 'You never know when a bad event is going to happen. Your plaque could be really fragile and can rupture just by getting up. We really don't know what is inside of us. If a severe stimulus system like the cold in winter, winning the soccer game or losing the soccer game [disrupts] plaque, it could be the final straw that breaks the proverbial camel's back.'
To help safeguard against setting off triggers in the winter months, physicians recommend following a few guidelines. Seides suggests getting a flu shot. 'During influenza or a high fever, a lot of chemicals are released into circulation,' he said.