A study published recently in the American Heart Association journal Circulation has found that people are 25 percent more likely to have a heart attack in winter.
The research also found that no matter what climate a person lives in, he or she is more likely to die of heart-related causes in winter.
“This finding is making a lot of news, because colder temperatures were thought to be the determining factor for the higher winter death rates,” Terence Bertele, chief cardiologist with Southern Maryland’s Chesapeake and Washington Heart Care, said in a Chesapeake & Washington Heart Care news release.
Researchers analyzed 2005 through 2008 death certificate data from seven U.S. locations with different climates, including Los Angeles County, Texas, Arizona, Georgia, Washington, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.
“In all areas, total winter heart attack deaths rose an average 26 percent to 36 percent from the summer low to the winter peak over four years,” the news release said of the study’s findings. “Seasonal patterns of cardiac deaths were very similar in the seven different climate patterns. Death rates at all sites clustered closely together and no one site was statistically different from any other site.”
Although the study found that cardiac rates are higher in the winter, it “doesn’t shed light on the causes,” said Thomas Haywood, a cardiologist with Chesapeake & Washington Heart Care, which has offices in Leonardtown and Waldorf.
Haywood, of Solomons, said one reason cardiac death rates might be higher in the winter is because people eat more, and what they’re eating tends to be less healthy. Another reason could be that people don’t exercise as much in winter, he said.
“People don’t live as healthy in the winter,” he said.
Viral infections such as flu, which are common in the winter months, also could lead to the higher cardiac death rates, he said, because the infections increase the chances of hospital admissions for heart attacks or heart failure.
Haywood said adjusting to a healthier diet and regular exercise, as well as “religious” hand washing and covering a cough, will reduce the risk of a heart attack, heart failure, cardiac disease or stroke in the winter.