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From 6pm on Sunday, February 5, the UKHSA have forecasted low temperatures and overnight fog across England. The cold spell will continue till Tuesday, February 7, with Dr Agostinho Sousa concerned about vulnerable people. “Cold weather can have serious consequences for health, with older people and those with heart or lung conditions particularly at risk,” he said.
The consultant in public health medicine at UKHSA added: “It’s important to check in on family, friends and relatives who are more vulnerable to the cold weather.
“If you have a pre-existing medical condition or are over the age of 65, it is important to try and heat your home to at least 18°C if you can.”
Heart conditions and the cold
The British Heart Foundation (BHF) says: “Researchers have shown that the effects on health of a cold day or cold spell can be seen for two weeks or more afterwards.”
The charity explains: “When we are cold, our nervous system springs into action to stop our core body temperature dropping and to keep our vital organs working.”
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The blood vessels narrow in response to the cold in an attempt to conserve heat.
However, the vasoconstriction (as it’s called) creates more pressure in the circulatory system.
Consequently, the heart muscle has to work harder to pump blood around the body, which increases the heart rate and blood pressure.
“People with angina may experience a worsening in their symptoms during the winter months, or find that they are less able to be physically active when it’s cold,” the BHF adds.
“At the same time, the blood itself can become thicker and stickier and more likely to form clots – which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.”
The BHF says research suggests that people who drink more than one alcoholic drink per week were at higher risk of dying of heart disease during a cold snap.
Lung conditions and the cold
NHS England revealed the people most at risk of adverse health outcomes during cold weather.
This included people with respiratory diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or severe asthma.
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The British Lung Foundation (BLF) says people living with a lung condition should “have a plan with your healthcare professional” on what to do in cold weather instances.
“This should include what to do and who to contact if your symptoms flare up,” the charity says, adding that if you don’t have a plan, talk to your healthcare professional to make one.
In partnership with Age UK, the UKHSA have shared “top tips for keeping warm and well this winter”.
As “exposure to low indoor temperatures can have a serious impact on your health as you get older”, it’s advised to keep the bedroom window closed at night.
In addition, those over the age of 50 are better off treating minor winter ailments, such as a sore throat, as soon as possible by visiting their local pharmacist – “don’t delay”.
“When you’re indoors, try not to sit still for more than an hour or so,” the partnership notes.
“If you find it difficult to move about, stretching your arms and legs can also help keep you warm.”
When venturing outside, people are advised to “wear shoes with good grip” to “avoid falls on slippery or icy surfaces”.