Peak winter: Study reveals extent of seasonal threat to heart health

Amanda Lyons

6/08/2019 2:05:56 PM

Researchers emphasise the need to monitor older patients with existing heart disease during the cold winter months.

Heart on cold window
A new study has revealed the strong impact of the winter chill on hospitalisations for heart failure.

The new report represents the first nationwide analysis of winter’s impact on heart failure-related hospital admissions – and has confirmed the cold’s brutality.
‘There is an alarming spike in the number of people admitted to hospital for heart failure during the colder months,’ co-author and heart failure expert Professor Simon Stewart said.
‘Seasonal variances contribute to almost 9000 otherwise preventable admissions each year.’
Professor Louise Burrell, an expert in cardiovascular medicine and other report co-author, explained some of the reasons behind the increase.
‘Colder weather can increase blood pressure, which makes it more difficult for the heart to pump blood around the body,’ she said.
The report found 21,400 hospital admissions made this year due to the type of heart failure described by Professor Burrell, 5200 more than during summer – almost 60 more admissions a day.
Additionally, Australia’s peak hospitalisation for heart failure in winter was comparable to rates in Europe, where winters are considerably colder.
The report also investigated the cost of these admissions to the Australian healthcare system, which reached a peak of $334 million in the winter, $140 million higher than the cost of the summer months.
Professor Stewart is hopeful the report’s findings will help raise awareness regarding heart failure symptoms among older people – persistent cough or wheezing, nausea, swollen ankles, legs or stomach, etc  – which can often be dismissed as normal consequences of growing older.
‘Establishing a clear link between winter and hospital admission for heart failure provides for the first time a new target to identify vulnerable people and reduce complications,’ he said.
‘It is important to reduce exposure to the cold and monitor people with heart conditions for worsening symptoms.
‘This is a group of people who typically don’t complain, so their families need to look out for the symptoms of worsening heart failure and alert doctors.’

heart disease winter

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