Special Report

Health Problems That Are More Common in the Fall and Winter

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For people with asthma, the cold dry winter air makes symptoms worse, particularly when exercising outside. Dry air irritates airways, causing wheezing and shortness of breath. Colds and flu also trigger asthma, as do indoor allergens such as dust and mold.

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Norovirus is an extremely contagious stomach disorder whose symptoms include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Like other illnesses that spread easily from person to person through contact, norovirus thrives in winter when people are more likely to spend a lot of time indoors among other people.

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Heart attacks

Heart attacks are more common in winter, perhaps because the cold weather increases blood pressure, straining the heart. There is also a strong link between depth and duration of snowfall and heart attacks among men, and it is estimated that about 100 people — mostly men — in the U.S. die of heart attacks from shoveling snow each year.

Blood pressure normally rises with exertion, and in the winter cold, blood vessels are already constricted, increasing the threat of heart attack. Shoveling and other extreme activity in winter is particularly unsafe for those who already have heart disease or who are normally sedentary.

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Arthritis pain

Many people with arthritis experience significantly increased joint pain in the winter, but the reason is unclear. Some studies suggested that changes in barometric pressure could be the reason, while others point to a combination of humidity and cold, with pain and stiffness increasing on cold damp days. Another theory suggests that dry air in the winter makes it more difficult to stay hydrated — and proper hydration is essential for joint health.

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Weight gain

Holiday indulgence and reduced activity are the big contributors to weight gain in winter, but stress, depression, and changes in sleeping habits can also play a role. The holidays alone are responsible for an average weight gain of 1 to 3 pounds, and the stress around holiday time can increase overindulgence in rich food.

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