Why Heart Attack Risk Increases in Winter | Health 101

Health 101

Why Heart Attack Risk Increases in Winter

According to the American Heart Association, someone in the United States has a heart attack every 40 seconds. And about 14 percent of people who have a heart attack will die from it1.

A heart attack occurs when the flow of blood to the heart is blocked. The blockage is often a buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances, which form a plaque in the arteries that feed the heart. The plaque eventually breaks away and forms a clot, and the disrupted blood flow can damage the heart.


The risk of heart attack rises in winter
You’ve probably heard that shoveling snow can increase your risk of heart attack. But falling temperatures can increase the odds of a heart attack even if you’re not doing much. In fact, heart attack rates increase most when the temperature dips below freezing2.


It’s not clear why hearts are at greater risk for problems during the winter months, but there are several possible reasons. Cold weather can increase blood pressure and raise cholesterol levels — two key risk factors for heart attack. Plus, the winter months are also when people have more colds and the flu, which increases the risk of a heart attack.


Catch heart attack signs early
As temperatures start to fall, your risk of a heart attack begins to climb. So, it is important to be aware of heart attack warning signs. Any combination of these common signs and symptoms should be taken seriously:

  • Chest pain
  • Feeling weak or dizzy
  • Jaw, neck, shoulder or back pain
  • Pain in one or both arms
  • Shortness of breath


Other signs and symptoms of a heart attack — that are often more common in women — could include tiredness and nausea or vomiting. Visit the American Heart Association website to learn more about these and other common heart attack warning signs.


Heart attack symptoms vary
Not all people who have heart attacks have the same signs and symptoms. For example:

  • Some people have mild pain, while others have more severe pain.
  • Some people have no symptoms. For others, the first sign may be a sudden cardiac arrest.
  • Some heart attacks strike suddenly, but many people have warning signs hours, days or weeks in advance.


The more signs and symptoms you have, the greater the likelihood you’re having a heart attack. Don’t ignore these warning signs and get checked out even if you’re not sure it’s a heart attack.


Seek help immediately
Calling 911 is often the fastest way to get treatment. The chances of surviving a heart attack are greater the sooner treatment begins.


The more time that passes without treatment to restore blood flow, the greater the damage to your heart. The sooner you get to an ER, the sooner you can get treatment to prevent total blockage and reduce the amount of damage.


Learning the signs for a heart attack and taking fast action can save lives — maybe even your own.


  1. https://www.healthline.com/health/heart-disease/statistics#1
  2. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamacardiology/article-abstract/2706610


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