Stroke Risk and Cold Weather
I just learned something new about stroke risk, and since I am writing in December when, for some readers, the temperature drops significantly. I thought it would be a good time to pass along this information to you.
Stroke Risk Rises In Cold Weather
If you have risk factors like high blood pressure, smoking, or a previous stroke, you are at a higher risk for stroke, which you probably already knew. However, you actually need to be even more careful about protecting your health during cold weather. This is because multiple studies point to a link between low winter temperatures and stroke incidence.
Although it is not entirely clear why cold weather makes people more vulnerable to stroke, Carolyn Brockington, MD, director of the stroke center at Mount Sinai West, says the increase may be connected to the fact that low temperatures constrict blood vessels. This ensures that your body doesn’t lose heat, but it also raises blood pressure, and high blood pressure is a known risk factor for stroke. “There is also some evidence that blood may become thicker during cold weather,” Dr. Brockington notes. *
“This makes blood clots more likely, and if a clot travels through the blood stream and blocks a blood vessel in the brain, this can cause an ischemic (the type caused by a blood clot) stroke.”
Dr. Brockington says the link with hemorrhagic stroke (the type of stroke that occurs if a blood vessel in the brain ruptures) also may be due to increased viscosity (thickness) of blood and higher blood pressure.
Other Possible Causes
Other factors may play a role in winter stroke risk. People tend to go out less during the winter, and less physical activity makes blood clots more likely. Winter coincides with the holiday season, during which people may overindulge in rich foods and alcohol and experience heightened stress that may cause blood pressure to spike.
What Can I Do?
There’s obviously nothing you can do about winter weather unless you relocate to a warmer climate during the winter months. “But you can address the other stroke factors you have,” Dr. Brockington says. These include high blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar, so closely follow your doctor’s advice for controlling these conditions.” Try to stay active indoors or at the local gym (Covid permitting) if you can’t get outdoors to exercise because of the chill and watch what you eat and drink over the holidays.
Dr. Brockington says it is also vital to stay alert for signs that may indicate a stroke, and immediately seek medical help if you think you may be having a stroke. “Time is brain,” she warns. “Getting medical help fast is your best chance of minimizing long-term damage and death due to stroke”.
I like the American Stroke Association’s “BEFAST” rubric to help you identify potential stroke symptoms:
B Balance – sudden onset of dizziness and loss of balance
E Eyes – blurred vision or loss of vision in one eye
F Face – one side of your face is drooping or feels numb
A Arm – one of your arms is weak and drifts down when raised
S Speech – your speech is slurred or hard to understand
T Time – Stoke is a medical emergency seek help fast
Focus on Healthy Aging
Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
- All quotes from Dr. Carolyn Brockington, MD, assistant professor of neurology and director of the stroke center and Mount Sinai West and Mount Sinai St. Luke’s