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Does Cold Weather Affect Blood Pressure?

Uncovering the link between cold weather and high blood pressure

Does Extreme Cold Weather Cause High Blood Pressure?

In the United States, the big news right now is how the weather is the coldest it has been in decades. In past years, you probably heard stories about how someone innocently went out to shovel his driveway succumbed to a heart attack.
 The thinking used to be that the person probably wasn't in shape, and all that sudden activity probably was too much for his heart. That's actually possible, but there are also other issues that have come to light in recent years.

Think about your reaction when you get cold. Don't you tend to kind of pull yourself closer in to yourself (or someone else) and try to get warm? Studies are now showing that the blood in your body is doing basically the same thing.
Cold weather can hike blood pressureIn an effort to keep your organs inside your body warm, your body pulls a good part of your blood supply away from your fingers & toes and inward toward your vital organs such as your heart, liver, kidneys, pancreas, brain,  etc.

Gal's Cold Feet on Guy's Warm Body

Guys – ever wonder why your girl's skin, feet & whatever feels colder – hence the need to snuggle up and give you a freezing shock sometimes? 
It's the hormones – again. Professor Michael Tipton, Professor of Human and Applied Physiology at the University of Portsmouth, says that the process of capillaries shutting down and diverting blood flow can go a little "haywire" in some women and start shutting down capillaries when temps are just a little cold. All the better to snuggle, right?

How Cold Weather Can Raise Your Blood Pressure

You bet…it sure can happen if you aren't getting enough water, and not for the usual reasons we have in the summer. Actually, it's the opposite.
What with all the layers of clothes, and going out to shovel snow, play in the snow or whatever, our bodies are probably losing water due to some sweat and just plain breathing.
Robert Kenefick, a University of New Hampshire Associate Professor of Kinesiology, did a study showing that when the blood is being sent to the core of the body during cold, the brain isn't being told that your extremities have a decrease in blood supply.
Because of that, the fluid regulating hormone, AVP (plasma argentine vasopressin) , which would be secreted at normal temperatures in order to signal the kidneys to slow down the production of urine in order to restore body fluid and make us thirsty and THEN restore our sodium level… 
...Long sentence there, take a breath!
Anyway, in the cold, the AVP doesn't get released, we don't feel thirsty (thirst sensation is reduced by 40%) our sodium level goes up.
And you know when you're dehydrated, your blood gets thicker and can get harder to pass through your arteries. 
So in an instance such as shoveling snow, especially if you're not used to the exercise, your arteries are stiffer, so the possibly thicker blood is trying to get through a smaller space while your heart is working harder. Not good. 
So be sure to drink water before you get thirsty!

This study was published in the Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.
How cold weather can make your blood pressure spike

Cold Weather and High Blood Pressure Medication

If you already have high blood pressure and are taking some prescription medication, it could be affecting your reaction to the cold as well. 
Beta blockers decrease your heart rate, thus reducing circulation to your hands and feet.
Calcium channel blockers work by relaxing blood vessels which also increases heat loss. Having high cholesterol or a thyroid condition are two more issues that can affect your body's reaction to cold.
It's recommended that especially if you live in a cold climate that you check in with your doctor to make sure your body and your medicine are working and no changes need to be made.

Cold Affects People With Normal Blood Pressure as Well

How cold weather affects normal blood pressure

If you know someone who thinks they're in the clear in cold temperatures because their blood pressure is normal, you might want to clue them in. 
Even healthy people have reactions to the cold, and that the temperature could be as high as 52 degrees! One study by Zhongie Sun, M.D., Ph.D. showed that just 5minutes in 52-degree temps raised blood pressure.
He also showed that "plunging a hand into ice cold water for one minute will experience a rise in blood pressure lasting up to two hours."
In 2009, French researchers found that especially in people ages 80 and over, cold causes the systolic numbers to be higher. The fight or flight response becomes triggered, the heart starts pumping faster & the blood vessels constrict. Hello, higher blood pressure.
The other day, there was a news story about an Alzheimer's patient that had left her home and unfortunately succumbed to the cold. (If the family somehow sees this, please know that my heart goes out to you. 
My father had Alzheimer's, so I know what a cruel disease it is, and to have this happen to your family member in addition to Alzheimer's – well, my prayers go out for your family.)
My first reaction to the story was how on earth could she have been outside and not tried to find a way inside? But while researching for this blog, one possibility came to light. 
In addition to skin thinning with age as well as the thin layer of fat diminishing, the nerve endings become less sensitive to pain and temperature.

So that's something to keep in mind when you're out in the cold for a while.

Tips for Super Cold or Frozen Fingers, Toes, Ears, Nose...You Get the Drift!

  • Your breath is warm - blow on your fingers to help warm up...I know...that's obvious, right?
  • Put your hands in a place where you usually try not to sweat...your armpits
  • If you aren't in a place to warm up yet, don't try to warm your feet up yet...it's safer to walk on them than for them to freeze again after warming up.
  • If your skin is injured, don't rub it. 
  • Put your feet or hands in warm...not hot...water. (My mother used to make us do this when we were out sledding for several hours as kids and didn't care we were cold! That warm water HURT! But no damage was done by our freezing our tushies in the snow!

Vitamin D to the Rescue (Read further About Precautions with Medication)

Yet another reason your blood pressure could be going higher in cold temperatures could be not enough Vitamin D. Not only are you probably not outside as much because of the temperatures, but the weather outside might not be allowing much access to the sun.
In 2008, the Framingham Heart Study put out a report that showed that even moderate Vitamin D deficiency "nearly doubles the risk of myocardial  infarction, stroke and heart failure over a mean of 5.4 years in patients with high blood pressure."
Usual dosages for adults:
  • 19 – 50 years of age are  600 IU (recommended dietary allowance
  • 70 years and older : 800 IU (recommended dietary allowance)
Of course, there's always that thing called the interaction with medicine. If you are taking blood pressure medication, have kidney problems, heart problems, sarcoidosis or tuberculosis,  always check with your doctor first, because some of the medication interact with Vitamin D.
You can't overdose on sunshine sourced Vitamin D! I grew up in the hills of Pittsburgh, PA where I remember those snow days from school spent sledding down the hills all the while denying how cold my hands and feet had become! 
Those were the best times – until the time of reckoning came and my brother and I had to go inside. I always had to go into the bathroom while my mom ran the bath water so I could put my frozen feet in the water.
I still remember the pain! Man! I was squirming and cowering just thinking about it just now!
Moral of this story:
Keep warm by layering clothes, use lots of blankets, drink water before you get thirsty, and move around to keep blood circulating.
Anywho, be safe out there! Keep warm but have fun and be aware!
P.S. Another way of warming up those fingers and toes is to use centrifugal force with your arms. Swing your arms around in total circles about 30 – 50 times. That gets your blood supply going back out to your fingers. Let it settle, then do it again.
For the rest of your body, swing your legs back and forth similar to the arms, but obviously (duh!) not in total circles. Just get moving to get the blood circulating.


Dehnel, Chris. Tips for Staying Warm in Cold Weather. January 3, 2014.

Blood Pressure Varies By The Season. January 20, 2009. Based on materials provide by the European Society of Cardiology. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/01/090116091523.htm

Merck Manual Home Health Handbook. Changes in the Body with Aging. Retrieved January 5, 2014.  http://www.merckmanuals.com/home/older_peoples_health_issues/the_aging_body/changes_in_the_body_with_aging.html

Cold Weather Hikes Blood Pressure, UF Scientist Warns. February 9, 2005. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/02/050205124018.htm

Kaiser Permanente. Home Treatment First Aid for Cold Exposure. Healthwise Staff. William H. Blahd Jr, MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Adam Husney, M.D. - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito M.D. - Family Medicine. Current as of July 1, 2021. 

Keeler, Sharon. Cold Weather Increases Risk of Dehydration. January 28, 2005.

Lambert. Chloe. So THAT'S Why Women's Feet and Hands Are Always Cold! Why They Are Slaves to Their Hormones. February 11, 2013.