Various diseases are aggravated by the cold weather. However, those with cardiovascular diseases, such as angina, hypertension or stroke, must take particular care.
They say that the cold weather leads to the worsening of cardiovascular diseases. This is because the cold weather leads to blood vessel constriction, leading to increased blood pressure, which puts a greater workload on the heart. Thus, people may experience worsening angina symptoms, or have increased blood pressure in colder seasons, even if they are on the same treatment as before.
|Illustration by Park Gee-young|
When the weather becomes cold, our body is said to take between 10 days and two weeks to adjust to the colder temperature. When the temperature decreases gradually from the fall to the winter, our bodies will adjust to this easily. However, if the temperature drops quickly in early winter, our bodies will take a considerable length of time to adjust.
The most serious symptoms of angina are pain and the feeling of tightness in the chest. The heart must work continuously without stopping, and to do this, it needs a good blood supply through the coronary arteries, which are the arteries of the heart. Arthrosclerosis of these coronary arteries will decrease the blood supply to the heart, leading to symptoms of angina.
Other symptoms may also arise, but chest pain is the most important symptom. The classic chest pain in angina is tightness and pain in the chest when exercising, for example, climbing the stairs or a hill, and is relieved by rest. With colder temperatures, there is an increased burden on the heart, which may cause more frequent episodes of chest pain, which can occur even with light exercise.
Such symptoms can worsen with colder weather. For example, a patient who could climb three flights of stairs in the warmer season may only be able to climb two flights when it is cold, or a patient who could walk 500 meters may only be able to walk 200 meters in colder seasons.
When symptoms of angina worsen, the patient must keep warm in the colder weather and avoid strenuous exercise. Patients should avoid mountain climbing, fishing, or playing golf without preparing for the cold weather. If the symptoms worsen even after taking measures against the cold, it is sensible to visit the hospital. If you experience more frequent symptoms, or worse symptoms, or if you experience symptoms that arise with exercise even when you are resting, it can sometimes lead to fatal diseases such as acute myocardial infarction.
Patients who have angina must make efforts to prevent the progression of arthrosclerosis, which can cause angina, and take appropriate lifestyle measures. The most important factor is to treat hypertension well, and reduce the consumption of fats if you have high blood cholesterol.
Most of all, smokers should stop smoking. Patients should also do regular exercise at least three times per week, each session at least 30 minutes, lose weight if overweight, and take action to relieve stress.
By Lee Sang-hoon
The author is a doctor at Division of Cardiology at Samsung Medical Center and a professor of Sungkyunkwan University School of Medicine. ― Ed.