Special Report

Health Problems That Are More Common in the Fall and Winter

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Winter blues

Many people experience periods of darker moods and lack of energy in the winter as they tire of the cold and shorter days. Winter can feel gloomy relative to other seasons, but for most people, the gloom doesn’t affect the ability to function or enjoy life. The more serious winter depression is known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.

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Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

For those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder, depression recurs with the onset of winter and permeates their lives. It can be debilitating for some, affecting work and social interactions. The primary cause of SAD is the reduced amount of natural light people are exposed to in the winter months. Lower levels of sunlight can cause changes in the amount of serotonin, a chemical the body produces, and the hormone melatonin — both associated with mood. Changes in the amounts of both can interfere with natural sleep/wake cycles.

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Cold hands and feet

Cold hands and feet are common in colder weather and are usually associated with Reynaud’s syndrome, an ailment caused by the narrowing of the smaller arteries in the cold months, though it is not understood why this narrowing occurs in some individuals and not others. Though it is not considered a serious health threat, it affects the quality of life of those who suffer from the condition.

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Being Sedentary

To the extent that the cold weather keeps people indoors and relatively inactive, long-term health can be affected. Recent studies have shown that being sedentary — sitting for hours at a time without occasional activity, however limited — can lead to early death, and the effects cannot be undone by exercise. The longer the periods of inactivity, the greater the increase in mortality rate.

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Car accidents

Snow and ice cause dangerous road conditions — such as slippery surfaces, reduced visibility, and obscured driving lanes — that contribute to highway deaths and injury. According to the Federal Highway Administration, every year, more than 1,300 people are killed and another 116,800 are injured in car accidents on snowy, icy, or slushy roads.

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