Heart attack rates spike in winter months, experts say

Author: , Reporter, @CatherineH_WFMZ, chawley@wfmz.com
Published: Feb 16 2013 07:00:00 PM EST   Updated On: Feb 18 2013 06:48:35 AM EST

Winter here in Pennsylvania often brings coughs, flu, ski injuries and sick days. 

Health experts now say you can add deadly heart attacks to that list. 

A recent study found more fatal heart attacks and strokes happen during the winter than any other time of the year.  Research shows a 26% to 36% greater death rate for heart attacks in winter than summer.

"They all show a rise this time of year and a drop in the warm weather," explained  Lehigh Valley Health Network cardiologist Dr. Bruce Silverberg.

According to the study, the worst months are December, January, February and the beginning of March.  And it doesn't matter whether your winter is frosty or sunny.

"They looked at Georgia, Arizona, Los Angeles," Silverberg said.  "Much more mild temperatures, and found the same pattern."

In fact, the research uncovered patterns in cardiac deaths from seven different climate patterns.  What's not clear is the reason why.  But there are some things that could be triggers.

"It's shorter daytime hours, not as much sunlight, stress of the holidays, financial stress of the winter time," added Silverberg.

Even so, knowing there's an up-tick in fatal heart attacks over the winter is enough for doctors to give some advice. 

Silverberg says you should eat a healthy diet, maintain an exercise program, and try to avoid getting sick by getting the flu shot and washing your hands.

"If you're going to have a healthy lifestyle, it needs to be maintained year round, not part time," said Silverberg.

He adds this is not something to stress and worry about since there is no proven cause.  The best thing you can do is stay healthy all year round.