It’s the season of heart attacks, flu, sore joints, dry skin and recurring depression.
Welcome to winter, a season notoriously hard on bodies and minds. Ailments from heart attacks to flu are more common; more people complain of sore joints and itchy skin; and many suffer from seasonal depression.
Here’s what to watch for and how to protect yourself in these darkest days of the year.
More people die of heart attacks, strokes and heart failure in winter than in other seasons, research shows. One theory is that the drop in temperatures, even in milder areas, causes blood vessels to constrict. Another is that people are less active in winter — and then when they are active outside, they may overexert themselves in the cold. That’s why shoveling snow can be “a perfect storm for heart attack and stroke to occur,” says Rani Whitfield, a family practitioner in Baton Rouge, La., and an American Heart Association spokesman.
A bout of flu can also strain the heart, and misuse of over-the-counter cold and flu medications can raise blood pressure, he says.
Here’s what to do: Get a flu shot, and if you have heart disease, keep taking your prescribed medicine and tracking your blood pressure. If you have symptoms of a possible heart attack or stroke, call 911, Whitfield says. “Your life is the best present you can give your loved ones.”
Many people have the so-called “winter blues.” They sleep more, drag a bit and eat worse. But a smaller group suffers from a form of major depression that can start in the fall and last until spring. Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a serious illness but can be treated with medication and psychotherapy, says psychologist Kelly Rohan, a professor at the University of Vermont. Another common treatment is light therapy — sitting in front of a bright light for a little while each day, she says.
While people with SAD can be just as impaired as people with other forms of depression, they are less likely to have suicidal thoughts, Rohan says. That may be because they know there is a “light at the end of the tunnel” in the spring, she says. For people with other forms of depression, suicides actually peak in the spring, she says.
Here’s what to do if you are prone to SAD: Seek professional treatment. If you have milder “winter blues,” try taking a walk outside each morning. The bright light will help keep your body rhythms in sync.
Achy muscles and joints
There’s no conclusive science showing that aches and pains get worse in cold or wet weather, says Robert Jamison, a clinical psychologist specializing in pain at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. But people with chronic pain do report more distress in the cold and damp, and Jamison says he believes them.
Click here to read more.
SOURCE: USA Today – Kim Painter