The recent cold fronts could stir more than just small talk. From California to the Deep South to the East Coast, this winter has struck with particular force, creating a health risk for seniors enduring the elements. According to new research from the Yale School of Public Health, people may be more likely to suffer strokes when temperatures drop and air moisture rises.
"Weather is not something people would typically associate with stroke risk," study author Dr. Judith H. Lichtman, an associate professor in epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health in New Haven, Conn., explained in a press release. "However, we've found weather conditions are among the multiple factors that are associated with stroke hospitalizations."
In the study, researchers examined a nationally representative sample of almost 135,000 adults who checked in to a U.S. hospital between 2009 to 2010. They discovered that the more the temperature fluctuated and the more the average dew point (moisture) rose, the greater the chance a person will be hospitalized for a stroke. In fact, as it gets warmer, risk for a stroke drops 3 percent for every 5 degrees, the study found.
Dr. Andrew Stemer, a neurologist at Georgetown University, said that there are biological reasons to believe the they are related. Blood vessels constrict in cold weather, which can heighten blood pressure. Extreme weather can cause a stress reaction by the body, inducing it to release chemicals that not only make the heart beat faster, but make blood sticker and more likely to clot.
"In other words, we found that there were higher stroke rates in the colder temperatures," Lichtman told Medscape.
Notably, however, temperature changes and dew point fluctuations were not associated with risk of dying from a stroke.
Roughly 85 percent of strokes are classified as ischemic, which means they are caused by clots or plaque deposits in blood vessels that stop blood flow to the brain. The other kind of stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain bursts. Researchers only monitored the former type.
Each year, around 800,000 Americans have a stroke. During extreme weather, seniors should be very wary of the conditions outside. You should watch your diet, salt intake and stay heated to ensure a standard of senior wellness, Dr. Daniel Lackland, a scientist at Medical University of South Carolina, told ABC News.
The study was presented Feb. 12 at the American Association's International Stroke Conference 2014 in San Diego. The results are regarded as preliminary since they have yet to be published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
Signs of a stroke
In any case, health officials urge people to be aware of the common signs of having a stroke. Memorize the F.A.S.T. acronym: Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty and Time to call 9-1-1.
About 100 million Americans in 20 states buckled down for yet another massive winter storm that hit the South, Mid-Atlantic and Northeast during the second week of February. Time will tell if winter has more snow and chilly temperatures on the way.