By Dr Gajinder Goyal
For a very long time, the onset of winter brings with it, a higher risk of heart issues. Usually, the risks of cardiovascular disease increase due to cold weather. Exposure to cold weather can even lead to a heart attack or myocardial infarction. As also mentioned in a report by NCBI, the incidence of myocardial infarction varies by season, and seems to be highest in the winter 1 . A heart attack occurs when the oxygen rich blood doesn’t flow to the heart as the way it should. It happens mainly due to the build-up of fatty plaque in the artery which causes blockages and creates obstruction in the blood flow to the heart.
Association of winters with the increased rate of heart attacks
In a normal weather, the human body maintains a steady body temperature without any effort or strain on heart. However, when the winter approaches, due to sudden fall in the temperature, our heart has to work extra hard to keep our body warm. This automatically narrows the blood vessels, increases the blood pressure and the heart rate also known as vasoconstriction condition. In this situation, our heart demands more oxygen for structured functioning. Having said that, a fit person with a healthy heart can adapt to these changes easily but people with already existing heart conditions like coronary artery disease might have difficulties adjusting to the extreme cold because a diseased heart may not be able to cope up with extra load. As a result, people with existing cardiovascular conditions are at high risk of heart attacks during cold weather.
Who all are mostly at-risk of heart attacks during winters?
- People with high blood pressure: They are mostly at risk since high blood pressure is a medical condition in which pressure of the blood in the arteries and blood vessels is too high.
- People with increased cholesterol levels: Cholesterol is a fatty or plaque like substance which often increases due to consumption of high-fat food more than what our body requires. When the surplus amount of plaque is built up in the walls of the arteries, that can narrow these arteries and decrease the blood flow to the heart and hence, raises the risk of a heart attack.
- People with unhealthy lifestyles: Those who have a sedentary lifestyle or those who consume high saturated fats or trans-fat in their daily meals might end up experiencing a heart attack or a stroke or might develop coronary artery disease quite early in their lifespan. Smoking and excessive intake of alcohol on a regular basis can put people at an elevated risk of heart attack. These lifestyle habits are responsible for increased obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
- People with heart related family history: Genetic factors certainly play a big role in the development of cardiovascular disease risks and other related conditions. The risks get doubled when family history of heart disease merge with wrong lifestyle choices.
Transformation in the management of coronary artery diseaseThe recent technological advancements have been remarkably changing the monitoring and treatment of heart attacks or cardiac arrests. Percutaneous Coronary Intervention (PCI) or Angioplasty is the most advanced treatment modality for CAD. Before angioplasty, coronary artery bypass surgery was an option available but had many complications like excessive bleeding during or after surgery, longer hospital stays, delayed recovery, and a degradation of the quality-of-life post-surgery. However, precision PCI is a minimally invasive procedure which helps reduce complication rates. Precision PCI allows a patient to recover faster with a minimal hospital stay. Furthermore, for the optimum results in the field of coronary artery disease, today we also have diagnostic tools like Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) that produces a three-dimensional image and provides qualitative information about the damaged arteries, blood flow, and clotting. Thus, OCT guides cardiologists in accurate decision making hence, enhancing treatment outcomes.
Thanks to new innovations in technology that has made cardiac surgery seamless, allowing patients to live a normal life after surgery. However, adoption of healthier lifestyle habits like having a balanced diet, conducting regular exercise, quitting smoking, and restricting alcohol consumption is some of the essential factors post any cardiac surgery.
Dr Gajinder Goyal, Director-Department of Cardiology, Marengo QRG Hospital
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