A cold snap isn't just bad for the garden – it could prove dangerous for your health. That's the warning from researchers, who say that a sudden drop in temperature can increase your risk of having a stroke by up to 30%.
Scientists in Germany analysed the data of 1,700 patients admitted to hospital over a seven-year period and discovered that for every 2.9C (5.2F) decline in outside air temperature over a 24-hour period, the number of strokes in the general population went up by 11 per cent.
The risk was greater for smokers, the obese and those with high blood pressure – who were 30% more likely to have a stroke in chilly weather.
Experts believe that cold temperatures can make blood vessels constrict, raising blood pressure, and may also increase the blood's potential to clot, forming blockages in the tiny arteries feeding the brain.
Scientists have known of a link between freezing weather conditions and increased risk of heart attacks and strokes for some time, but this latest study from the Jena University Hospital in Thuringia is the first to show that even relatively small temperature changes can lead to a rise in hospital admissions.
In cold weather, the heart has to work much harder to keep the body warm. The British Heart Foundation warns: "Cold temperatures may also cause changes to your blood that can increase the risk of developing blood clots and lead to heart attack and stroke. Elderly people are particularly vulnerable to a drop in body temperature (hypothermia) in the winter months."
The charity recommends keeping your home warm (to at least 16 to 18 degrees Centigrade), having regular hot meals and drinks, and taking a hot water bottle to bed. Wearing several thin layers of clothing can help keep you warmer than a few thick layers, and because a lot of heat is lost from the head, it can help to wear a hat and scarf. If you have a heart condition, be sure to have the winter flu jab as the virus makes the heart work that much harder.
While the predicted cold snap is a concern for many in the UK - night-time temperatures are expected to fall below freezing across much of Britain by midweek - the biggest single cause of strokes remains high blood pressure, so it's important to get it checked regularly.
Three products that may help to keep you warm and well:
Relaxwell by Dreamland Chocolate Heated Throw, £39.99
Challenge 1kW Mini Oil Filled Radiator, £24.99
HoMedics Upper Arm Blood Pressure Monitor, £29.99