The Indiana State Department of Health has identified heart disease as the leading cause of death in Indiana. The agency also stated cardiovascular disease causes 17.3 million deaths each year worldwide.
The Indianapolis Recorder Newspaper recently got a chance to chat with Dr. Krishna Malineni of Community Health Network about why heart attacks are more common during the cooler months and to learn about new advances in heart treatment and diagnosis.
Indianapolis Recorder: It is said that the number of heart attacks spike during the winter. Is this true?
Dr. Malineni: That is correct, especially when associated with certain activities such as snow clearing, which tends to carry a significant burden on the heart or people who have unstable coronary disease. These things can precipitate something such as a heart attack and chest discomfort due to lack of blood supply and blockages in the vessels.
Explain the cold weather’s impact on blood pressure.
For some individuals, in particularly older individuals, it does carry a risk as we go out into colder weather. A number of things can happen. No 1., the blood vessels can begin to constrict on the outside in the body’s attempt to preserve heat. There can also be an increase in blood pressure in the core that can put extra strain on the heart.
Does malnutrition affect one’s heart health?
There has not been a clear connection on studies involving malnutrition and cardiac events. We know individuals in western society rarely get malnourished and those that do can be sick for multiple reasons. Maybe they’ve already had a heart attack, kidney disease or liver disease that promotes a lack of proper nutritional intake and the body’s ability to process nutrients.
With shorter daylight times, physical activity may decrease. How can individuals continue to be active?
This is the issue we tend to have in the northern part of the country with longer winter months, which can lead to decreased physical activity and obesity. We recommend our patients go to local community centers, walk on a treadmill or simply walk in the mall, as long as they avoid the food court (laughs).
What is the connection between cold weather and lung problems?
For some individuals when flu season starts, it can affect the lungs. If someone has continuous nasal drainages due to allergies, that can lead to worsening lung function and problems with their respiratory system, which can put a burden on their heart. Taking in a deep breath of cold air could have some effects.
Sometimes a heart attack can be mistaken for a pulled muscle. How can one identify symptoms?
We do see people unfortunately ignore discomfort, specifically chest discomfort because they think they’ve pulled a muscle but for some people that can be hard to judge or they don’t want to go through the hassle of going to the emergency room which we see too often. Generally, fleeting discomfort not associated with shortness of breath or fatigue tends to not be the heart.
But if it is associated with an increase in frequency, especially if it is associated with physical activity, we’d say that needs to be evaluated because it could be the heart. Symptoms are different for women and men and it’s not always the clutching of the left chest that is considered classic for a typical attack. Sometimes women may only experience fatigue and nausea.
What are the newest advances in heart treatments and diagnoses?
There are some new advances but it’s a constantly evolving field. We can offer many more treatments that are less invasive which doesn’t always mean one could go into a procedure. It could be as simple as sitting down with your doctor and determining the symptoms. There are different ways of evaluation such as stress tests and if there are abnormal results, we can complete a cardiac MRI.
For more information, visit heart.org.