Cardiovascular Disease and Seniors

As you get older, your heart changes. These changes manifested in certain symptoms, such as high or low blood pressure, fatigue and decreased stamina while exercising.

You may also experience restricted blood flow, reduced blood volume and other issues that could lead to cardiovascular disease. While you cannot stop your heart from aging, you may work on improving your health and therefore be able to reduce the chance that you develop serious issues.

Taking the time to exercise each day, plan healthy meals and avoid tobacco products are all excellent steps toward this goal. Making regular appointments for wellness check-ups will also help your doctors catch the signs of cardiovascular disease early, which gives you a much better chance of improving your symptoms.

If you have developed cardiovascular disease, your doctor will likely work with you to establish a treatment plan. Even if you have not developed the disease, it is important to understand what these treatment options entail so that you will remain well-informed. In addition, it is helpful to understand how the heart works, changes over time and the changes that are considered abnormal.

How does the heart function?

The more you know about how a healthy heart functions, the more you will be able to understand what goes wrong in cardiovascular disease. This may make it easier for you to detect the early signs of the disease.

There are two sides to the heart, four chambers and arteries and veins, which bring blood out of or into the heart. The right side pumps blood with a lower oxygen level to the lungs, where the blood oxygen level gets replenished and excess carbon dioxide is removed. The blood that is rich in oxygen flows from the left side of the heart into arteries, which transport the blood to the rest of the body.

The arteries branch out and become smaller as they flow through different parts of the body and into tissues. The smallest arteries are in tissues, where they branch into capillaries. The tissues then use the oxygen from the capillaries in exchange for carbon dioxide. Finally, veins transport oxygen-poor blood back to the heart, which closes the loop in the cycle.

How the Heart, Blood Vessels and Blood Change with Age

Your heart, blood vessels and blood are all affected as you get older. The pathways within your heart, for example, may grow fibrous tissue or fat deposits, which may lower your heart rate.

Your heart may also grow to a larger size with time, with the left ventricle increasing the most in size. This negatively impacts the heart’s function, because the walls of the heart will thicken and diminish the size of each chamber.

As a result, the heart will not be able to pump as much blood and the different chambers will fill more slowly. The aorta, which is the main artery in your heart, may thicken and stiffen as well. This results in higher blood pressure and even thicker muscles in the heart.

Your doctor may order an electrocardiogram (ECG) if you suspect that your heart is not functioning well. Though your heart function is not expected to be the same as when you were younger, there are other, more serious changes that an ECG may detect.

An abnormal rhythm, for instance, is common among older adults, but it may also be a sign of cardiovascular disease. A doctor may also be able to determine from an ECG whether the valves in the heart are stiff or thick. This is because thick or stiff valves control blood flow and may cause you to develop a heart murmur. A heart murmur is a swishing sound and often a sign of abnormal blood flow.

Your blood vessels and capillary walls will change with age as well. Baroreceptors, which are receptors in your blood vessels, will not be as sensitive as when you were young. These receptors regulate your blood pressure and increase or lower it depending on your activities. If they are not functioning well, you may develop orthostatic hypotension, which means your blood pressure drops dramatically when you change your position.

As an example, you may find yourself getting extremely light-headed, blacking out or even fainting when you get up from a chair. Your capillary walls will change as they become thicker, resulting in fewer nutrients and oxygen being transported through your system.

Finally, your blood may change because your body does not retain as much water. This results in a lower volume of blood, which is essential for repairing damaged tissues, producing more blood cells and reducing your risk of getting sick.

All these symptoms of aging may make it harder for you to recover from stress, physical exertion, illnesses and injuries. In addition, you may face more serious side effects with certain medicines.

How to Treat Cardiovascular Disease

There are certain preventative measures you can take yourself to lower your risk of heart disease. If you focus on eating healthy foods and staying away from cholesterol, you may greatly improve your heart function.

It is also important to exercise regularly and avoid all tobacco products. Even just one walk each day may help to lower your blood pressure, reduce your body fat percentage and even relieve stress. If you smoke at all, consider reducing your cigarette usage and talking to your doctor about ways to quit.

Your doctor may also prescribe medications or other treatments if you already experience cardiovascular disease. Medication is common if you have high or low blood pressure.

If you have more serious heart conditions, such as a partially-blocked artery, you may need to get a stent. A stent is a small tube that a surgeon implants in your artery, which expands once it is inside. This will open the artery and allow blood to flow. Fortunately, stent surgery requires only local anesthesia and mild sedation.

If you have a severe health issue, such as an artery that is entirely blocked, you may require heart-bypass surgery. This type of surgery involves using a blood vessel from another part of your body to bypass the artery that is blocked. Bypass surgery is more serious because it is open-heart surgery.

For arrhythmic beats, your doctor may suggest a pacemaker. This is a small device that gets implanted in your body. The device then sends an electrical impulse to your heart muscle whenever there is an irregular beat or a long pause between beats.