To protect itself against the cold, the human body has a series of thermoregulatory mechanisms in the hypothalamus. A poor thermoregulatory system or an experience of thermal stress (hot or cold) can have serious health consequences.
In the European Union (EU), about half of winter deaths are due to coronary thrombosis, so we should take care of ourselves to prevent such health issues.
“The cold produces vasoconstriction on blood circulation (the ability to reduce the calibre of the artery) that increases blood pressure and cardiac output,” Alberto Grima, secretary of the Cardiology Section, explains to CF. Prevention and Rehabilitation of the Spanish Society of Cardiology (SEC). This information is especially important in people who have suffered a heart attack, hypertension problem, angina pectoris or ischemic heart disease.
The latter is the leading cause of winter deaths and accounts for about half of them. They often occur a few hours (or a day or two) after exposure to cold, indicating that thrombosis may start during or shortly after exposure to cold. The rapidity of death by thrombosis is due to the fact that the cold changes the blood composition, increasing the level of red blood cells, cholesterol and fibrinogen, all of which are known thrombogenic factors.
Coronary events (from mild angina pectoris to severe heart attack) increase in relatively cold periods, especially in hot climates. In colder climates, a minor increase is observed, indicating that in warm regions, it is possible to prevent specific crises. The inhabitants of warm areas, especially women, should keep warm during cold days because of the temperature contrast. “In warm areas, where it’s barely cold, waves of low temperatures catch people off guard and increase the risk of suffering coronary accidents,
There are also risk groups in people who have not suffered a coronary disease. As in any other pathology, the elderly and children are the groups most vulnerable to low temperatures. “In children, this is because the body’s thermoregulatory centre is yet to develop,” says this cardiologist.
Also, homeless people and alcoholics increase the chances of death if they stay cold. According to Grima, “the regulatory centre of the hypothalamus is altered by the toxicity of alcohol in the liver, which causes a poor response to cold.” However, she continues, “between 70 and 90 per cent of homeless people with tuberculosis or alcoholism (usually the majority) die from the cold.”
To avoid this situation, “not leaving the house as much as possible, during cold waves, especially the groups at greatest risk”.
Avoiding sudden changes in temperature and physical exertion after meals are other tips this Valencian cardiologist gives (see attached table).
As Spain is a relatively hot country, it is not one of the regions with the most deaths due to cold. However, “there is a paradox, in other countries in the south of the continent, of having more coronary deaths in winter than the Nordic countries. This is because the houses are less equipped to insulate low temperatures”.
The cold: that great unknown
“People are not aware of the damage that low winter temperatures have on health, since they are unaware of the consequences, sometimes dramatic, that entails enduring the cold for hours,” Luis Miguel Ruilope, president of the Spanish Society of Hypertension-Spanish League for the fight against arterial hypertension (SEH-Lelha).
Ruilope believes that, sometimes, people do not go warm enough as they should and that the low temperatures catch the population off guard in Spain. In addition, he believes that just as important as keeping warm outside is “undressing in closed places” since people who do not do so risk altering their thermoregulatory centre and being more vulnerable to cold.
The cold can kill
Advice to be followed by people with coronary heart disease.
– Avoid making physical efforts in the early hours of the day and when it gets dark, which are the coldest.
– Avoid sudden temperature changes, going from the houses’ heat to the street’s cold with the appropriate clothing so that the body does not notice the contrast in excess.
– Walk and moderate physical exercise always in the middle of the day, which is the hottest.
– Do not leave home on windy days or temperatures below zero.
– Stay calm at home after eating and try to digest in a comfortable and quiet place.
– Avoid alcohol consumption if you are going to go out.it’s necessary to keep ourselves healthy.