By: Alex Matthews-King Health Correspondent
The cold snap, which brought snow and ice to swathes of the UK this weekend, is also likely to usher in a spike in heart attacks and strokes, the NHS has warned as it urged vulnerable patients to keep warm.
Around two out of five of the extra deaths recorded in winter are as a result of heart attacks in the days following a cold snap, NHS England said.
It added that the impact of cold weather on the health service was “immediate”, with a spike in hospital admissions likely.
Admissions of stroke patients reach their peak five days after cold weather begins, while increases as a result of acute respiratory conditions take about 12 days to reach their peak, it said.
This is predominantly a result of colder weather making viral infections, like flu, spread more easily. The can cause serious complications for older people.
NHS England said that people with heart and lung conditions and the elderly should keep their homes heated to at least 18C.
It added that there is still time to get a free flu jab on the NHS to cut the chances of ending up in hospital and minimise the strain on the health service.
For every one degree drop in temperatures below 5C, NHS England says it sees a 10 per cent rise in older people seeking medical help, and a one per cent rise in emergency admissions.
The temperature was stuck below zero for most of the weekend, wreaking havoc with parts of the transport network.
The Met Office has warned temperatures could reach as low as -15C in parts of England and Wales early in the week.
Keith Willett, NHS England national director for acute care, said: “What the public are unaware of is the immediate knock on effect of the cold weather. cPatients who have pre-existing conditions may not be aware that they are most at risk of falling ill in the days after temperatures drop.
“We are also asking the public to keep an eye on any elderly neighbours they might have who are the most vulnerable during the winter months.”
Charity Age UK said: “As we get older, it takes longer for us to warm up which can be bad for our health. The cold thickens our blood and increases blood pressure, and breathing in cold air can increase the risk of chest infections.”
It added that older people should keep their living room at 21C and their bedrooms slightly cooler.