When temperatures dip below 40 degrees, Oklahomans should pay attention to more than snow forecasts and slippery streets to stay safe.

Ongoing research at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center has shown that once the temperature dips below this mark, the body responds by constricting blood vessels to conserve heat in as quickly as 10 minutes after you go outside.

This cold temperature change not only raises blood pressure in healthy men and women, but can pose a serious risk of heart attack or stroke for patients with cardiovascular disease or other diseases such as diabetes and chronic kidney disease. Fatal heart attacks and stroke peak during the winter months.

“Your body senses cold temperatures   and sends a message to your brain, which responds by shrinking blood vessels. This is very dangerous for people with hypertension and heart diseases. It can make the conditions more severe,” said blood pressure expert Zhongjie Sun at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine.

“Exposing any part of your body to cold temperatures is enough to send your blood pressure up. It’s very difficult to completely avoid the effects of cold weather, but you should minimize exposure.”

What you can do:

• Stay indoors.

• Wear layers (a single layer, no matter how thick, doesn’t work).

• Wear a hat.

• Wear gloves.

• Do not make sudden strong exertions if you have known heart problems.

• High wind, snow and rain make matters worse.

• Pay particular attention to children and the elderly, since they have more difficulty regulating body temperature, which results in hypothermia and possible heart failure.

Symptoms to watch for:

• Headache.

• Dizziness.

• Nausea.

•Sluggishness.

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