A MILD winter and a more health-conscious public are factors behind a record drop in deaths in the first quarter of this year, experts have suggested.

Newly released official figures show 13,959 deaths were registered in the first three months of 2014 - a 7.5 per cent fall on last year and the lowest first-quarter total recorded in at least 40 years.

Huge drops in deaths from heart disease and strokes contributed to the decrease, with 10.8 per cent fewer ­fatalities as a result of coronary heart disease compared to the same period just a year ago, according to the National Records of Scotland. The number of people dying as a result of strokes fell by 12.4 per cent.

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Colin Berry, professor of cardiology at Glasgow University, said the weather may have been one of the key factors that exaggerated a trend in falling death rates in the early part of the year.

"Bad winters and sustained periods of cold really do affect the elderly, particularly those in disadvantaged social circumstances," he said.

Mr Berry said changes in society in the past decade, including the smoking ban coming into force, were also contributing to a decline in deaths from heart disease and strokes.

"I think people in the community are responding more to health messages than they used to," he added. "People are cognisant of their food intake, ­exercise and the relationship with health, at least more than they used to be. People are responding more and that does translate to better health."

In the first quarter of 2014, 1,759 people died from heart disease in ­Scotland, with stroke registered as the cause of death in 1,096 cases. In the same period a decade ago, the figures were 2,884 and 1,765 respectively.

There were 3,874 deaths from cancer in the first quarter of this year, a fall of 0.5% on the 2013 figures.

Dr Marc Dweck, British Heart ­Foundation clinical lecturer at Edinburgh University, described the statistics as exciting. While agreeing the weather was a factor, he said the expiry of a patent for a powerful statin, leading to it being prescribed to more patients, may also have contributed to reduced heart disease deaths.