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People most likely to die of heart problems in winter, regardless of climate

People are more likely to die from a heart-related issue in the winter, regardless of if you have chilly winds knocking at your door or warm weather year round.

New research presented this week at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2012 in Los Angeles showed that total and circulatory system-related deaths rose considerably during the relatively coldest season of the year in a variety of different climates.

"This was surprising because climate was thought to be the primary determinant of seasonal variation in death rates," said Dr. Bryan Schwartz, a cardiology fellow at the University of New Mexico said in a press release.

Researchers from Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles looked at death certificates from between 2005 to 2008 in seven different U.S. cities with different types of winter temperatures: Los Angeles County, Calif., Texas, Arizona, Georgia, Washington, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.

During winter, total deaths and "circulatory" deaths -- meaning deaths by heart attacks, heart failure, heart disease and stroke -- went up 26 to 36 percent from the lowest death rates recorded in the summer. No matter if the location had a warmer winter or a frosty one, patterns remained similar.

While the study didn't look at what may have caused more deaths in winter, the researchers believed it may have to do with vessel constriction and raised blood pressure due to colder temperatures. Also, people tend to be unhealthier in the winter, Schwartz noted.

"They don't eat as well and don't exercise as much," he said.

American Heart Association spokesman Dr. Vincent Bufalino, a senior medical director of cardiology at Advocate Health Care in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., said to WebMD that he often has to tell his patients in the Chicago area that they need to pay attention to their physical health and mental health during the winter months.

"I'm in the Chicago area, and come winter, we have to prod our patients to go to the gym, eat right, and keep it up," he said.

Dr. Robert Kloner, a cardiologist at the Heart Institute at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles who worked on the study, added to the Los Angeles Times that the burden of the holiday season may add to why people tend to die during this time.

"Maybe it's obnoxious relatives, or financial stress," he hypothesized.

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