The United States is experiencing some of the most extreme cold weather conditions in its history. The implications for people with high blood pressure should not be ignored.
Patient First, a chain of primary care health centers with locations in Hampton and Newport News, has even issued a press release with advice for those dealing with current weather conditions on the Peninsula. The release cautions that “snow shoveling can be a strenuous activity. It can increase blood pressure and heart rate. Individuals with a history of heart disease, high blood pressure or strokes should not shovel snow.”
It continues that if a person must shovel snow, they should do so as early as possible. Snow is heavier after it has been on the ground for a few days — often melting and re-freezing, creating a solid chunk of snow rather than powdery, just-fallen snow. “Also, make sure that you are properly hydrated and prepare your body for shoveling by warming up. Jog in place or do 10 jumping jacks before you begin to shovel, as this will get your blood flowing before you begin. Shoveling too fast can increase your blood pressure.”
Researchers have explained that colder weather stimulates the nervous system, which essentially causes more stress, leading to hypertension, and even heart attacks. In cold weather, people also tend to eat more and exercise less, which can also lead to higher cholesterol levels and a higher blood pressure.
Another potential explanation for the increased risk of coronary events in colder weather is the stimulation of cold receptors in the skin and therefore the sympathetic nervous system, leading to a rise in levels of catecholamine — the small substances made by nerve tissue and the adrenal gland that play an important role in the body’s physiological response to stress. Moreover, increased platelet accumulation and blood thickness during cold exposure promotes clotting.
According to U.S. nonprofit, Mayo Clinic, low temperatures cause the blood vessels to narrow, thereby increasing blood pressure as more pressure is needed to force blood through your narrowed veins and arteries.
Dr. Sheldon Sheps, professor of medicine and former chair of Mayo Clinic, says that “in addition to cold weather, hypertension may also be affected by a sudden change in weather patterns, such as a weather front or a storm: “Your body — and blood vessels — may react to abrupt changes in humidity, atmospheric pressure, cloud cover or wind in much the same way it reacts to cold. These weather-related variations in blood pressure are more common in people age 65 and older.”
Best advice is to stay indoors, regularly check blood pressure readings and to heed cold Website weather warnings.
Marie Coppola January 2014
From the Website of RESPeRATE®