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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A surge of patients with heart-related problems have rolled in to doctors' offices in Kentuckiana with the extreme cold weather that's battered the area in January.
It's so cold that it hurts to walk outside and doctors say bodies are working to compensate the chilling effects.
Dr. Atul Chugh, director of cardiology for U of L Physicians, says blood vessels clamp down when the temperature dips in order to conserve heat. This places more stress on the heart and causes problems for cardiovascular patients.
"We know from studies all the way from the 1930s onward that we've seen an increase in heart attacks, strokes and heart failure exacerbations during the colder months," Dr. Chugh said.
"It's been bitter cold, " said heart patient David Zerby, who moved to Louisville from New Jersey.
Doctors tell Zerby he must be extra cautious in the cold weather because of his abnormal heart rhythm.
"Your body starts to cool down faster and when your body starts to cool down I can feel my heart rate going up," Zerby said.
The gray skies are making matters worse, blocking the sun's natural provision of vitamin D, which research shows helps to regulate blood pressure.
Stressed out? That's likely since doctors say extreme cold even produces more stress hormones.
Doctors note a 20 to 40 percent increase in heart-related problems during the winter compared to the summer.
"Particularly those with chest pain or heart attacks, I think we've been seeing a lot more younger patients with problems as a result of the cold weather," Dr. Chugh said.
And there's even a scientific explanation behind the crave for fatty and salty comfort foods during deep freeze.
Dr. Chugh says our bodies are working harder on a cellular level, increasing the desire for those higher calorie foods.
The best advice doctors can offer is to dress in layers, stay hydrated and listen to your body.
"Do things in short increments and really gauge how your body is feeling," Dr. Chugh said.