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  • Writer's pictureSecond Opinion Magazine

Relationship Between Cold Weather and Stroke

Cold weather seems to make our noses run. It may weaken our immune systems. But does it increase the risk of stroke?

Many medical experts say yes.

“Although our numbers don’t necessarily support the theory, it’s widely accepted – especially in cold-weather climates like Wisconsin – that there is a correlation between cold weather and ischemic stroke,” said Jeannie Pittenger, HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital stroke program coordinator. “Our goal is to educate people so those at risk of a stroke can make necessary changes.”

According to a 2015 study in the World Journal of Emergency Medicine, researchers found wind speed and a change in atmospheric pressure increased the cases of ischemic stroke – usually caused by a blood clot that clogs a blood vessel and keeps blood from flowing to the brain.

The North American Journal of Medical Sciences supports the theory, stating there is a seasonal increase of stroke events during the cold winter season.

Data cited in the article indicates that low temperatures and barometric pressure changes can trigger adjustments in blood viscosity, blood pressure and hormones. In turn, those changes can lead to stroke.

That’s where the stroke team at HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital comes in.

Dr. Jacques Tham, interventional radiologist on staff at HSHS Sacred Heart, said every minute counts.

“In the case of a stroke, time is brain, and we say that because we know that when there’s a blood clot blocking the blood vessels to the brain, the brain becomes starved of oxygen and the brain tissue can die very quickly,” he said. “Stroke is the leading cause of adult disability in the United States and the fourth leading cause of death,” Tham said. “What used to be a hopeless condition we can now give hope and new life to our patients.”

Tham has the extensive training and skilled ability to unclog that vessel.

“When somebody comes through imaging and they determine we can do clot retrieval, a small tube is inserted into the groin and it is threaded up through the larger arteries into the brain,” Pittenger said. “Clot retrieval is used when other treatments aren’t effective or right for the patient.”

Dr. Tham retrieves the clot, which can bring patients instant relief.

“It’s incredible how quickly patients can recover after the procedure. The second the clot comes out we see them move the hand or leg that previously was nonfunctioning,” Tham said. “Clot retrieval is a game changer in the treatment of stroke. It allows us to treat the patients who did not have hope previously. We’re excited to be the leading center in the region for stroke care.”

Tyler Bowe, an HSHS Sacred Heart emergency department registered nurse who works stroke protocol, said he’s proud to tell people that his hospital is the only one in the region able to perform this important clot removal.

“I’m still kind of blown away that we have this – that I can say to a patient I have more than just a medication to give you. There’s actually a possibility of a procedure that we can go in and get this,” he said. “We are the only people in the area that have it and that is something to be proud of. Our team is something to be proud of.”

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