Hypertension in Winters

By Dr. Sameer Shrivastava in Cardiology

Jan 17 , 2023 | 2 min read

Quick Overview:

  • Cold weather tends to raise blood pressure (BP) primarily through a process called vasoconstriction (narrowing of blood vessels), thereby pumping blood with a higher force and increasing blood pressure.

  • Elderly and diagnosed hypertensive patients are at an elevated risk for seasonal blood pressure variation during winter. It can lead to severe complications like heart disease and strokes.

  • At-risk populations should protect themselves from exposure to sudden changes in temperature, monitor BP regularly, and be in regular touch with their physician if there is any deviation from the set limits.

Northern India is under the grip of a severe cold wave, with minimum temperatures plunging to 2-3 degrees Celsius. Needless to say, such harsh weather brings adverse repercussions on health. One such effect is on the body’s blood pressure. It is observed that cold weather tends to raise blood pressure through namely 3 processes:

  • vasoconstriction (narrowing of blood vessels)

  • increase in blood volume

  • increase in sodium concentration in blood (the latter two are due to less sweating)

Vasoconstriction occurs as a preventive mechanism by the body to conserve heat from the extremities – the blood vessels in hands and legs narrow in diameter on exposure to low temperatures, thereby increasing the force with which blood is pumped. Due to the lesser sweating in winter, there is blood volume and sodium retention, which is also a factor for the rise in blood pressure.

Particularly susceptible to these changes are the elderly population and heart disease patients. This is a cause of concern as sudden acceleration in blood pressure may lead to angina, heart attacks, and strokes. Chronic increases in blood pressure also may adversely affect the kidneys and other organs of the body.

As the old adage goes, prevention is better than the cure – BP fluctuations due to temperature drops can be avoided. Small preventive measures can go a long way to avert disasters in the form of stroke and heart attack.

  • Home-based blood pressure monitoring should be encouraged daily, and if blood pressure reading goes beyond the desired level (as notified by your physician), ramp up the medicines in consultation with the treating physician. Your physician will set BP limits depending on your age, gender, and disease history.

  • Keep yourself warm and well-covered. Maintain your home temperature in a comfort zone, including washrooms if possible.

  • Avoid going outside the home for walks before sunrise and after sunset.

  • Be careful about diet, especially salt, sugar, and fat intake. Higher intake of both salt and sugar have been linked to higher blood pressure (BP), heart disease, and worsening of diabetes. Avoid overeating.