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Heart Health in the Cold

Tips for keeping your heart warm but not overworked

SUNDAY, Dec. 14, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Winter isn't only about suffering through cold and flu season. More heart attacks occur during these months than at any other time of year.

Although experts aren't sure why, they do have some clues about the higher incidence of heart attacks in winter: Upper respiratory infections such as colds, influenza and bronchitis may increase the risk of heart attack -- especially in the two weeks following the illness.

Another danger associated with cold weather is hypothermia, which means the body temperature has fallen below normal. It occurs when your body can't produce enough energy to keep the internal body temperature at a sufficient level -- which can lead to heart failure and death. Also blame the emotional stress of the holidays, coupled with people's tendency to overeat around Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's.

For those who are at risk for a heart attack, experts suggest the following: maintain a heart-healthy diet and don't smoke; ask your doctor about a flu shot, which American Heart Association research has shown can reduce strokes and the chances of a second heart attack; dress appropriately for outdoors, and check with your doctor before engaging in strenuous physical activity, including shoveling snow.

Also, be aware of attack warning signs, including chest, shoulder, neck or arm pain, dizziness, fainting, sweating, nausea or shortness of breath. If you recognize any of these signs, seek medical help immediately.

More information

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has an informative booklet on heart health, available in both English and Spanish.

SOURCE: American Heart Association
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