This winter may be one for the record books. Abnormally cold weather, rapid temperature swings, and seemingly never-ending storms have kept many Americans inside and many children home from school. Now, there may be yet another reason to despise the winter cold. According to a recent report from the American Stroke Association, weird weather conditions such as lower than average temperatures have been associated with increased hospitalization and death due to stroke. The report leads researchers to believe that cold weather, large daily changes in temperature and higher than normal humidity could increase risk of stroke.
Research presented at the 2014 International Stroke Conference focused on incidences of ischemic stroke, which occurs when an artery to the brain becomes blocked. This type of stroke accounts for about 87 percent of the approximately 800,000 stroke cases reported each year. After correlating hospital admissions due to ischemic stroke with weather conditions like temperature and dew point, the researchers found that certain weather conditions could be associated with increased stroke hospitalization and death.
More specifically, large changes in temperature throughout the day and higher levels of humidity were associated with higher stroke hospitalization. Below average temperatures were associated both with stroke hospitalization and death. Researchers found a .86 percent decrease in stroke hospitalization and a 1.1 percent decrease in death due to stroke with every one degree increase in average temperature. In short, risk of stroke seemed to increase when people experienced colder weather, high humidity or rapidly changing temperatures.
Judith Lichtman of Yale University led the study and urged those who are at high risk for stroke to take proper precautions during wild weather. Lichtman suggested that folks who are at increased risk for stroke and live in an area experiencing extreme weather conditions may benefit from ensuring proper air conditioning during very hot weather and appropriate heating when temperatures are very cold.
Although Litchtman stated that it is not quite clear exactly why the connection between weather and stroke exists, extreme weather conditions can cause physiological responses in the body that may contribute to increased stroke risk. Temperatures and humidity levels can affect blood pressure, for example, and very cold weather may constrict blood vessels and affect circulation.
However, because the research is preliminary, some health experts urge people who live in wacky weather conditions to take a chill pill. According to US News, Dr. Mark Stecker, chairman of the neurosciences department at Winthrop-University Hospital, believes that it is much more important for people to focus on other risk factors such as blood pressure, exercise, diet and weight.
Lichtman believes more research should be done to further understand the relationship between weather conditions and risk of stroke. “Future research is needed to better understand the cause and effect of changes in weather conditions, as well as to explore potential mechanisms for this association,” Lichtman said.
In the meantime, those with increased stroke risk, such as the elderly, smokers, and those with hypertension, heart disease or diabetes should be on the lookout for signs and symptoms of stroke when cold weather, high humidity, or rapidly fluctuating temperatures hit. Health experts continue to urge those with increased risk of stroke to pursue controllable risk-reducing behaviors like not smoking and getting enough exercise.
By Katie Bloomstrom