Risk of heart attacks, strokes rises after cold snap, NHS England warns

The risk of heart attack and stroke rises immediately after a cold snap, and the number of people admitted to accident and emergency departments is likely to increase, NHS England warns

An X-ray with the red area showing a stroke. Picture: iStock

There is an increased risk of heart attack and stroke in the days immediately after a cold snap, NHS England has warned.

When temperatures plummet below freezing the number of people admitted to A&E is also likely to increase, it said.

With much of the UK hit by chilly conditions, NHS England said heart attacks increase almost immediately after a cold snap, accounting for two in five winter excess deaths.

Hospitals also see a rise in the admission of patients due to stroke five days after cold weather begins, and peak respiratory admissions go up 12 days after the temperature drops.

Knock-on effect

When the temperature reaches 5C, each degree it falls below that means a 10% rise in older people presenting with breathing problems and rise of nearly 1% in emergency admissions, NHS England said.

NHS England national director for acute care Keith Willett said most people are unaware of the immediate knock-on effect of cold weather on health.

'Patients who have pre-existing conditions may not be aware that they are most at risk of falling ill in the days after temperatures drop,' he said.

'This also adds to pressure on already busy A&E departments and can be avoided by taking simple steps to keep well.’

Most vulnerable

Professor Willett added: 'Those with pre-existing heart and lung conditions and particularly the elderly should take care to keep their homes properly heated and get their flu jabs.

'We are also asking the public to keep an eye on elderly neighbours, who are the most vulnerable during the winter months.'

The number of emergency admissions is also linked to colder weather causing the spread of viruses, including the flu.

Older people who may be frail, or who have existing health conditions, are particularly at risk, NHS England said.

Last winter there were 400,000 additional emergency department attendances, bringing the total to more than 7.5 million, an increase of 5.6% on the previous year, the body said.


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