As winter sweeps over and blankets the world with cold, it is important for people to be alert about the increased risk of stroke due to cold. People living in areas where there is immense exposure to cold should be protected against a variety of harms that come to health along with coolness. It is a well-known fact that falling temperatures have bad effects on one’s blood pressure. All around the world when the temperatures go down particularly in winters, the incidence of stroke- the country’s fifth-leading cause of death – appears to go up. The reason for such incidence is because during cold weather the blood vessels constrict and the blood becomes thicker and stickier that makes it easier to clot. Variation of temperature by more than 10 degrees has shown to increase in stroke risk by 12 to 18 percent.

Many studies have associated winter season and increased risk of stroke due to cold:

  • A 2016 study published in the Journal of Stroke and Cerebrovascular Diseases examined nearly 172,000 ischemic stroke hospitalizations in the United States and found they occurred more often in colder average temperatures and when temperatures fluctuated significantly.
  • Last year, a study of about 56,000 stroke deaths over a decade in Sao Paolo, Brazil, found that falling temperatures may increase the number of deaths from stroke, particularly among people over 65.

In India, the weather in most parts of northern, western and central parts is very cold. Dr. Purohit, Professor of Neuroscience at Bengaluru based Rajiv Gandhi University Of Health Sciences, said at the oration at a National Continuing Medical Education Programme “Dipping Temperature during winter in the last couple of years in the country have led to a three-fold increase in stroke, especially the hemorrhagic type”

How can one recognize the symptoms of a stroke:

It is important for the family and friends or the patient to recognize a stroke immediately and take immediate steps to save the person’s life.  This recognition can be achieved by using a very well accepted mnemonic FAST, which stands for:

  • F – Face drooping: Face will appear unequal, or deviation of face to one side is visible. This appears more when a person tries to smile.
  • A- Arm weakness: When the patient lifts both arms, the affected arm will drift down.
  • S – Speech difficulty: Difficulty in speech or being unable to articulate words or slurring.
  • T – Time: Time to call for medical help.

Other symptoms stroke which one should be aware of are:

  • Sudden numbness or loss of sensation in the limbs, or one side of the body.
  • Sudden onset of confusion or disorientation or irrelevant talk.
  • Sudden loss of vision, in one or both sides.
  • Sudden onset of vertigo or loss of balance while walking.

Once a person recognizes a stroke, the patient must be urgently taken to a hospital nearby. The obstruction caused due to blood clots can be removed within 3 hours by giving a clot-busting injection by a stroke-ready hospital. So arriving at the emergency dept of a stroke-ready hospital within 3hours of onset of the symptoms is imperative.

But statistics show we can’t just blame the weather. Taking care of one’s health and adopting preventive measures especially by older people, diabetic patients and people having high/low blood pressure problems is crucial.