This Morning: Dr Zoe explains health risks during cold weather
Keeping warm in the winter is vital to stay in good health. Getting too cold increases health risks, and is especially dangerous for the elderly and those living with chronic medical conditions.
More people die in the UK from the cold than in colder countries such as Finland, Norway and Denmark.
Excess deaths attributable to the cold set in when the temperature falls below 12C (54F), warned Dr Deborah Lee, of Dr Fox Online Pharmacy.
She said: “A cold spell doesn’t just affect you on the day – the effect can be felt up to a couple of weeks afterwards.
“During cold weather, the risk of a stroke or a heart attack doubles.”
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The reason for this, Dr Lee explained, is to keep your body’s core temperature up, the body diverts blood away from the peripheries – fingers and toes – so these blood vessels become constricted.
Because of this, the heart has to pump harder to push the blood through narrower blood vessels.
This isn’t a problem for healthy people, noted Dr Lee, but for those who already have atherosclerosis in their coronary arteries, the added insult of being cold can bring on an attack of angina or even a heart attack.
She added cold temperatures also make blood thicker and stickier so more likely to clot.
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Researchers have found that when temperatures drop, blood pressure and cholesterol rise, and vitamin D levels fall.
Dr Lee advised: “You can help protect yourself from heart disease in the winter by keeping your home heated to at least 18C, keeping active, having warm drinks and warm food, and wrapping a scarf around your mouth and nose when you go outside so you are breathing in warm air.
“The NHS recommends everyone take a 10mcg (400 IU) vitamin D supplement in the winter.”
Those with heart conditions are strongly recommended to have the recommended vaccinations, such as the flu and Covid jab, as advised by their GP.
You should also see your GP if you have any chronic medical condition which seems to be worse in the cold winter months.
Dr Lee said: “If you have a relative or friend who seems to be suffering in the cold, encourage them to see their GP and accompany them to the appointment if necessary.
“If your respiratory symptoms such as breathlessness, cough, wheezing or chest discomfort are worsening, and/or your peak flows are falling, don’t delay. Get an urgent GP appointment, phone 999 or go to the nearest A&E.”
Winter is a bad time for those with chronic medical conditions, for those aged 65 and older and people living in cold, poorly heated homes.
- Keep your home warm – at least 18C or above. Make sure you find out and claim if you are eligible for the Winter fuel payments.
- Have the recommended flu, COVID-19, and pneumococcal vaccinations.
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