Winter Weather May Be Linked To Stroke Hospitalization, Death

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Not only do winter snowstorms wreak havoc on travel and transportation and upend lifestyle conditions, temperature drops can also be harmful to your health. A new study shows that weather conditions are among multiple factors that are associated with stroke hospitalizations and even death.

RELATED: Winter Depression On The Rise

“This study suggests that meteorological factors, such as daily fluctuations in temperature and increased humidity, may be stressors that increase stroke hospitalizations,” Judith H. Lichtman, Ph.D., M.P.H., study author and an associate professor in Epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health in New Haven, Conn., said in a news release.

Previous studies have connected seasonal trends to stroke rates, but in the new study, researchers recorded temperature and dew point data from a nationwide sample of 134,510 people, 18 years and older. They were admitted to hospitals in 2009-10 for ischemic stroke (caused by a blood clot that blocks blood flow in or leading to the brain).

Researchers found that larger daily temperature fluctuations and higher average dew point (indicating higher air moisture) were associated with higher stroke hospitalization rates. The study found that lower average annual temperatures were associated with stroke hospitalizations and death.

Each 5-degree Fahrenheit temperature shift was linked to a 6 percent heightened risk for stroke hospitalization. Each 5-degree Farenheit jump in dew point was associated with a 2 percent increase in stroke hospitalization risk.

Lower temperatures were connected to stroke hospitalizations and even death. Each 1-degree Farenheit increase in average temperature was connected to a 0.86 percent decrease in the odds of stroke hospitalization and a 1.1 percent decrease in the odds of dying in the hospital after stroke, the study shows.

Increments in daily temperature fluctuation and average dew point were associated with increased odds of stroke hospitalization, but not with dying in the hospital.

The findings were presented Feb. 12 at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2014 in San Diego, Calif. The results are considered preliminary since they have not been presented in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

Each year, Americans suffer more than 1.5 million heart attacks and strokes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But African Americans and older adults face a greater risk than others. An estimated 44 percent of African-American men and 48 percent of African-American women have some form of cardiovascular disease that includes heart disease and stroke.

Strokes can occur suddenly. Symptoms include facial drooping, arm weakness; speech difficulty; sudden numbness or weakness of the leg, arm, or face; and sudden confusion or trouble understanding, according to the Stroke Association. Risk factors that can be changed, treated, or controlled, include high blood pressure, cigarette smoking, diabetes, high blood cholesterol, and poor diet.

“People at risk for stroke may want to avoid being exposed to significant temperature changes and high dew point and, as always, be prepared to act quickly if they or someone they know experiences stroke signs and symptoms,” Lichtman said.

“Future research is needed to better understand the cause and effect of changes in weather conditions, as well as to explore potential mechanisms for this association,” she continued.

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