This Christmas proved “less lethal than average”, says a leading blood testing expert. Though more people tend to die of heart problems during Christmas week than at any other time of the year, this year there were 7,447 deaths in England and Wales over Christmas, compared to 9,517 in 2022 and a five-year average of 8,228.
Dr Avinash Hari Narayanan (MBChB), clinical lead at London Medical Laboratory, says: “Christmas can be an unhealthy and stressful time of the year. Research published in the US journal ‘Circulation‘ shows that 4% more people die of heart problems during the Christmas holiday compared to even the mid-winter average. The most fatal of all is Christmas Day. It has the highest number of cardiac deaths that occur rapidly after the presentation of a medical problem. In second and third place are 26th December and New Year’s Day.
“The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show 7,447 deaths were recorded in England and Wales in the week ending 29th December 2023. This total was down 21.7% from last Christmas and 9.4% from the five-year average for Christmas week. Despite reports of a surge in Covid cases, Covid was involved in only 2.4% of deaths (181 deaths compared to 393 deaths over Christmas week, 2022).
“We don’t yet have a complete breakdown of the cause of deaths for Christmas week, but we can tell a lot from last Christmas’ results. While we don’t see all causes of death in these figures, we can see that 1,803 deaths for the week ending 30th December 2022 were directly attributable to diseases of the respiratory system and 787 to influenza and pneumonia. Only the preceding week (ending 23rd December 2022) saw more deaths due to respiratory diseases, influenza, and pneumonia.
“Intriguingly, 10% more women (4,999) than men (4,518) died last Christmas week. The 2022 data for England and Wales shows the north-west of England suffered the most deaths in the final week of December (1,393), closely followed by the south-east (1,369). More people died in hospitals over Christmas (4,169) than at home (2,540). Adding to the impact of fatty Christmas foods, it’s perhaps not generally known that a bad case of flu can also have an impact on the heart. There is a known link between the flu virus and cardiovascular disease. The flu virus affects inflammatory and blood-clotting pathways.
“Adding to the impact of fatty Christmas foods, it’s perhaps not generally known that a bad case of flu can also have an impact on the heart. There is a known link between the flu virus and cardiovascular disease. The flu virus affects inflammatory and blood-clotting pathways. This can cause stable fatty deposits on the artery walls (plaques) to become unstable, leading to rapid coronary artery blockage, the main cause of heart attacks. Together with Covid-19 and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), we are far more likely to catch flu during the winter. Together with Covid-19 and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), we are far more likely to catch flu during the winter.
“Knowing all these issues, what preventative action can we take to fully recover from Christmas excesses? Having access to information about your health is always beneficial, especially at a time when we are all recovering from eating fattier and richer foods than normal. With GP surgeries extremely busy at this time of year, people worried about their cholesterol levels do have alternatives. The most common option is a finger-prick cholesterol blood test, which can be taken at home or at many local community pharmacies. By monitoring our cholesterol over time, we can see how effective our New Year’s healthy eating resolutions have been at reducing these levels.”
London Medical Laboratory’s revolutionary and convenient home finger-prick Cholesterol Profile test measures total cholesterol, LDL “bad cholesterol”, HDL “good” cholesterol, non-HDL (a newly adopted, more accurate measure), and other key markers. It can be taken at home through the post or at one of the many drop-in clinics that offer these tests across London and nationwide in over 95 selected pharmacies and health stores. For full details, see here.