The American Heart Association warns individuals with existing heart disease or stroke, and those who may be at high risk for these illnesses to use caution during heavy snowfalls and wintry conditions. This includes people with a strong family history, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smokers, those who are overweight and the sedentary. For these individuals, the stresses of the cold weather may pose extra concern and the association is urging individuals to use caution to avoid sudden cardiac death and hypothermia. With the region still recovering from Hurricane Sandy and some without power or heat, it’s important to stay warm safely and also learn the signs of hypothermia.
Hypothermia occurs when your body can’t produce enough energy to keep the internal body temperature warm enough, causing it to fall below normal. It can kill you. Heart failure causes most deaths in hypothermia. Symptoms include lack of coordination, mental confusion, slowed reactions, shivering and sleepiness.
Children, the elderly and those with heart disease are at special risk. As people age, their ability to maintain a normal internal body temperature often decreases. Because elderly people seem to be relatively insensitive to moderately cold conditions, they can suffer hypothermia without knowing they’re in danger.
People with coronary heart disease often suffer chest pain or discomfort called angina pectoris when they’re in cold weather. Besides cold temperatures, high winds, snow and rain also can steal body heat. Wind is especially dangerous, because it removes the layer of heated air from around your body.
To keep warm, wear layers of clothing. This traps air between layers, forming a protective insulation. Also, wear a hat or head scarf. Much of your body’s heat can be lost through your head and ears are especially prone to frostbite.
Alcohol gives an initial feeling of warmth, but this is caused by expanding blood vessels in the skin. Heat is then drawn away from the body’s vital organs.
The American Heart Association recommends the following tips to help people respond to and prevent sudden cardiac arrest:
CPR: About 80 percent of all out-of-hospital cardiac arrests occur in private residential settings, so being trained to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) can mean the difference between life and death for a loved one. Effective bystander CPR, provided immediately after cardiac arrest, can double a victim’s chance of survival. The American Heart Association conducts courses convenient to everyone.
Hands-Only CPR: Hands-Only CPR is CPR without mouth-to-mouth breaths. It is recommended for use by people who see an adult suddenly collapse. It offers an easy to remember and effective option to those bystanders who have been previously trained in CPR but are afraid to help because they are not confident that they can remember and perform the steps of CPR.
It consists of two steps:
1) Call 911 immediately.
2) Begin providing high-quality chest compressions by pushing hard and fast in the center of the chest with minimal interruptions.