New research has established a link between strokes and cold weather giving everyone something new to worry about. In her presentation at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference, Judith H. Lichtman, one of the authors of the study, conceded that weather is not something most people think of as a stroke risk.
Among the things people do usually think of as risk factors for strokes are: smoking cigarettes; having a family history of strokes; having high blood pressure or cholesterol; and being over 50, male, obese, or diabetic. Living in an area that has winter is not on the usual list of risk factors.
In cold weather, a number of things happen to the body that can cause a stroke. Blood vessels constrict, reducing blood flow and increasing blood pressure. In this condition, blood is more likely to clot. That pesky clot racing to through the bloodstream to the brain is the problem.
The connection between strokes and cold weather certainly gives people in traditionally cold areas something new to worry about, but folks in warmer areas are not off the hook.
It turns out that fluctuations in temperature over short periods of time have generally the same effect as cold weather. In addition, hot weather and high humidity can cause dehydration, which raises the risk for clots and stress leading to strokes.
Apparently any weather is a risk factor for stroke. The really big difference between cold weather and hot weather is survival. Hospitalization for stroke and death rates appear to increase and decrease with temperature and dew point.
Lichtman, an associate professor in Epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health, says that weather conditions are among the various factors associated with hospitalizations due to stroke. Lower average temperatures are linked with stroke hospitalizations and death.
Every one degree increase in average temperature is associated with a nearly corresponding one percent drop in the odds of being hospitalized by a stroke or dying in the hospital after a stroke.
Regardless of where a person lives, strokes are a serious concern. Most people have a pretty good idea of the risk factors that fall within an individual’s power to control. Weather is not one of them.
Nevertheless, the experts do have a little advice to offer. Dr. Mark Stecker, chair of the neurosciences department at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, NY, said that this study will have little effect on how stroke risk is managed. He would advise patients to pay more attention to other risks including diet, weight, and exercise.
Lichtman suggested keeping an eye on the elderly and other people who are at risk for a stroke. It is also important for everyone to pay attention to diet and particularly salt intake. In terms of weather, the best advice seems to be to stay warm in the winter and to keep cool in the summer.
The connection between strokes and cold weather is not so much something new to to worry about as it is something to be aware of. Knowing the symptoms of stroke can be life saving. Among these symptoms are the sudden appearance of: numbness, tingling, weakness or loss of movement in the face or limbs, especially if it occurs on only one side of the body; vision changes; problems speaking; confusion; difficulty with walking or balance; and severe headache.
By Sharon I. Fawley