NHS England warns of increased risk of heart attack and stroke in the days immediately following a cold snap

As temperatures reach below freezing, NHS England is today advising the public on ways of staying well this winter, as the number of people being admitted to A&E is likely to increase significantly due to the cold weather.

NHS England warned that heart attacks increase almost immediately after a cold snap and that accounts for two in five winter excess deaths, as well as the same proportion of NHS excess winter admissions. Hospitals also see a rise in the admission of stroke patients five days after the cold weather begins and peak respiratory admissions go up 12 days after the temperature drops.

People with respiratory illnesses also suffer during the cold weather. For every one degree that the temperature drops below 5 degrees, there is a 10% rise in elderly people presenting with breathing problems and almost a 1% increase in emergency admissions. Therefore if the temperature drops 5 degrees there will be a 4-5% increase in people being admitted to A&E.

The number of admissions is also linked to colder weather circulating viral infections, one of which is flu. Older people who may be frail, or who have existing health conditions, are particularly at risk.

Last winter there were 400,000 additional A&E attendances, bringing the total to more than 7.5million. That was an increase of 5.6 per cent on the previous year.

The NHS is therefore advising the public to take sensible precautions to ensure they minimise the after effects of extreme cold weather. The elderly are advised to keep warm, both indoors and out. They should heat their homes to at least 18C, and there is still time to get their flu jabs to avoid unnecessary hospital stays.

Pharmacists are fully qualified to give advice on the best course of action, and should be seen as soon as anyone feels unwell. Older and vulnerable people should also stock up on medicines when possible.

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. 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.

“This also adds pressure on already busy A&E departments and can be avoided by taking simple steps to keep well. 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 any elderly neighbours they might have who are the most vulnerable during the winter months.”

More information about how the public can stay healthy during winter can be found on NHS Choices website.