Cold Weather and Heart Attacks: is there a Link?

The ins and outs of heart health in frigid temperatures
It’s one of the most dreaded parts of winter: shoveling snow out in the cold. But can the cold weather and shoveling cause a heart attack?

Dr. Saadeddine Dughman, an Interventional Cardiologist with the St. Elizabeth Heart and Vascular Institute, weighs in on the debate.

“Exposure to cold during snow shoveling – in addition to the heavy physical activity – can increase the risk of a heart attack, especially in predisposed people who have risk factors,” says Dr. Dughman. “Sudden changes in temperature exposure, like going from heated indoors to very cold outdoors, can also increase your risk of heart attack.”

Dr. Dughman explains that the body produces adrenaline in extreme temperatures, which can cause increased heart rate, higher blood pressure and constriction of arteries. The extremely cold temperatures can increase the blood’s viscosity and tendency to clot. This can lead to clot formation and plaque rupture in coronary arteries, which can cause a heart attack.

If you’re outside in cold weather – shoveling or otherwise – and experience any of the below symptoms, stop immediately, go inside and seek medical attention.

Dr. Dughman suggests wearing heavy clothes to avoid significant body temperature changes. Layers will help you stay as warm as possible, as well as hat, mittens, a scarf, warm boots and a thick winter coat.

Heart attack symptoms
If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms – don’t wait, call 911 immediately. Early medical intervention can be critical during a heart attack.

Symptoms of a heart attack can include:

  • Chest pain/discomfort/heaviness, sometimes radiating to the left shoulder and jaw
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Sweating (diaphoresis)
  • Dizziness
  • Epigastric pain or indigestion

St. Elizabeth cares about your heart
For non-urgent cardiovascular needs, St. Elizabeth Heart and Vascular Institute is here for you. We have eight Tristate locations, making it easy to schedule an appointment close to home. Please call (800) 737-7900 or search St. Elizabeth Physicians online to make an appointment with one of our cardiologists.