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Heart Attacks More Common in Winter

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Upcoming Heart Month Events:
Cardiovascular Symposium – Feb. 6
Improve Your Heart Health – Feb. 18

SARASOTA (Jan. 28, 2010) – You probably know from experience that winter brings a surge in colds and flu. But did you know that winter is also the season for heart attacks?

Studies show that more than 50 percent of heart attacks occur in the winter months, and that cardiac mortality is highest during the months of December and January.

There are a number of reasons why, including narrowing of arteries caused by colder temperatures, said Ricardo Yaryura, M.D., board certified cardiologist and medical director of interventional cardiology services at Sarasota Memorial Hospital.

“Cold temperatures cause arteries to tighten and blood vessels to constrict as the body tries to prevent heat loss,” Dr. Yaryura explained. “That in turn raises blood pressure, reduces oxygen supply to the heart and sets the stage for a heart attack.”

People whose arteries are already full of plaque are at greatest risk, he said. For them, and others at risk for cardiovascular disease, the cold weather can be a determining factor that causes the plaque to burst, leading to a heart attack or stroke. Winter heart attack risks also can increase due to hormonal imbalances caused by the change in ratio of daylight and dark hours, he said.

The problem is so serious that in the north, health officials regularly issue warnings to people to take it easy when shoveling snow in the morning. But increases in winter heart attacks have been documented in warmer climates, including Florida, especially during flu season, Yaryura said.

“We know that inflammation can trigger a heart attack and that the flu causes inflammation,” he said, noting that inflammation can make arterial plaque less stable and cause it to dislodge and block arteries.

Symptoms of a heart attack may include pain, discomfort or a squeezing sensation in the chest, pain in the arms, back, neck or jaw, shortness of breath, nausea or a cold sweat. Though women may also experience pain, they are more likely than men to experience shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting and back or jaw pain

To lessen your risk of wintertime risks, Yaryura offers the following advice:
• If you’re over age 50 and overweight, sedentary, smoke or have had a heart attack, know your risk factors for heart disease, like high cholesterol and high blood pressure, and see your doctor to make sure you are on the right regimen and treatment plan.

• When starting a workout, be sure to limber up first by stretching or walking before you start. Don’t overexert yourself, especially in chilly weather. Choose a warm environment and exercise that doesn’t place additional pressure on your heart. If you have any cardiovascular disease risk factors, be sure to consult your doctor before starting a new exercise regime.

• Bundle up in chilly weather. Wear windproof and waterproof outer garments, and dress in layers to help maintain your body heat.

• Get a flu shot each year. Although peak season for flu typically begins in late January, February is not too late to get vaccinated and reduce your risk of not only the virus, but also a heart attack.

Free Education Events

Cardiovascular Symposium – Feb. 6
In recognition of American Heart Month in February, Sarasota Memorial is co-hosting the 6th annual Cardiovascular Symposium. If you are a health care provider or concerned about a personal or family history of heart disease, don't miss this free educational presentation that explores advances in early detection, prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease. The annual symposium offers a full day continuing education event for physicians and qualified health care providers (8 am-5 pm), and a half-day presentation (2-5 pm) for the public, on Saturday, Feb. 6, in Sarasota Memorial’s first floor auditorium, 1700 S. Tamiami Trail. For information or to RSVP, call (941) 366-9800.

Improve Your Heart Health – Feb. 18
Learn how to lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, reach and maintain a healthy weight and stop or even reverse heart disease with a few simple fitness strategies and heart healthy recipes in this free community presentation by Sarasota Memorial’s cardiac rehabilitation experts, 11:30 am-12:30 pm Thursday, Feb. 18, at Sarasota Memorial’s Institute for Advanced Medicine, 5880 Rand Blvd., Sarasota. Information/registration: 917-6139.

Screening & Prevention
Find out if you at high, moderate or low risk of cardiovascular disease with Sarasota Memorial’s 18-Point Heart Inspection – Assessing whether you are at high, moderate or low risk for cardiovascular disease is easy with Sarasota Memorial’s new 18-point heart inspection. Our Cardiovascular Disease Assessment Center team uses the latest, non-invasive heart, lung and circulation tests available – a series of 10 vascular and cardiac diagnostic and 8 laboratory tests – as well as an in-depth risk assessment and physical exam to identify early markers and signs of cardiovascular disease – all performed in one pain-free 2-hour visit. No physician referral is necessary. For fees, information or an appointment, call (941) 917-6969.

About Sarasota Memorial’s Superior Cardiac Outcomes
Medicare study shows Sarasota Memorial cardiac patients fare better than those at most other U.S. hospitals
Sarasota Memorial Health Care System is a regional referral center offering Southwest Florida’s greatest breadth and depth cardiovascular care. A 2009 Medicare analysis found that Sarasota Memorial outperformed most U.S. hospitals in caring for heart attack patients. Sarasota Memorial had the second lowest (best) heart attack readmission rate of any hospital in the country, 15.4 percent compared to the national average of 19.9 percent. Likewise, Sarasota Memorial’s readmission rate for heart failure placed it among the top three hospitals in the state of Florida and among the top 50 (#31) of 4,600 hospitals studied nationwide. The analysis is posted on the Hospital Compare website, In a separate study of Medicare reports published by this week, Sarasota Memorial ranked among the top 5% of hospitals in America based on unusually low mortality and complication rates for 26 different procedures and diagnoses, including treatment for heart failure, pneumonia, stroke, as well as stent procedures, back surgery and hip and knee replacement operations.

Date Published: January 28, 2010

Media Contact: Kim Savage
Phone: (941) 917-6271

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