Around 25,000 more people die over the course of each winter compared to other times of the year and many conditions are worsened by the cold weather, according to the NHS ‘Stay Well This Winter’ campaign.
Eighty per cent of these deaths are in people with circulatory diseases (such as heart disease, lung illnesses and stroke), dementia and respiratory diseases (such as asthma). Exposure to cold temperatures, whether indoors or outside, increases blood pressure, which in turn raises the risk of heart failure, kidney disease, stroke or dementia.
Cold temperatures can also make blood more likely to clot, which can lead to heart attacks and stroke. Cold can also affect the respiratory system, which reduces the lung's ability to fight off infection explaining why lower temperatures are linked with bronchitis and pneumonia.
Meteorologist and weather presenter Lucy Verasamy, who is supporting the NHS campaign, says: "Cold weather narrows the blood vessels. This is why we see an increase in things like heart attacks over winter months. There are also other practical dangers when the weather gets cold such as icy pavements, which lead to an increase in slips and falls, particularly amongst the elderly."
Colder weather is not only associated with an increase in deaths but also has a significant impact on the number of people becoming ill. Research shows that for every one degree centigrade drop below five degrees in outdoor average temperatures, there is more than a 10 per cent increase in older people consulting their GP for breathing problems, a 0.8 per cent increase in emergency hospital admissions and a 3.4 per increase in deaths.
What can you do?
- Heat your home to at least 18°C (65°F).
- Look out for those at increased risk of illness over the winter months.
- If you qualify for the free flu jab, get it now.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet and stay physically active.
- Look into Winter Fuel Payments, Warm Home Discounts and Cold Weather Payments. Visit www.gov.uk/phe/keep-warm
- If you meet the criteria, register for priority service with your energy and water suppliers.
- Make sure your gas, solid fuel and oil burning appliances are serviced by a registered engineer so that they are working effectively and safely before the winter sets in.
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