March 27, 2001 -- The coming of spring is associated with new life and signs of vitality. Could it also be a time when heart attacks occur most frequently? Perhaps, according to a study presented last week at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology.
The researchers examined the relationship between the seasons of the year and the frequency with which heart attacks occurred in 3,300 patients in Germany who had been treated for a heart attack and then followed in an outpatient clinic.
There was a 15% increase in heart attacks during the spring. During that season, there were an average of 6.5 heart attacks per day among these patients; in other seasons there were an average of 5.5 heart attacks per day, according to researcher Anselm K. Gitt, MD, of the Herzzentrum Ludwigshafen in Germany.
The scientists also examined the effect climate change may have on heart attack frequency, and found no link to days that were considered to have an unstable climate according to barometric readings. However, there was a higher likelihood of death while in the hospital among patients who had heart attacks on days with an unstable climate, according to the researchers.
But these findings, although interesting, should have no bearing on basic heart-healthy living, according to Dan Fisher, MD, a cardiologist at New York University Medical Center and the associate director of cardiac rehabilitation there. Fisher, who was not involved in the study, tells WebMD that a person's health strategy should remain the same throughout the year: limit your fat intake, get regular exercise, strive for healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and seek medical attention for any chest pain or pressure.
"This study is interesting, but nobody should ignore heart attack symptoms just because they occur at other times of the year other than spring," he says. "Everyone should take good care of their heart, arteries, and cholesterol regardless of season."
So why would warmer weather yield more heart attacks? "Could it be because people are more active as the weather improves, after having been sedentary during the winter?" asks Fisher. "We don't know. What we do know is these findings do not change any medical advice regarding heart-healthy behavior."