Age-Related Heart Disease
Age is the number 1 risk factor for heart disease. Heart disease is a leading cause of death in people over the age of 65.
How the Heart Changes with Age
- The heart undergoes a number of changes during the normal aging process:
- The heart walls, particularly the left ventricle, get thicker.
- The heart rate may change.
- Heart muscle cells may deteriorate.
- Abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias) become more common.
- Heart valves may thicken or leak.
As people age, their blood vessels also change and their blood volume may change.
Age-related heart changes may decrease the heart’s ability to pump blood as efficiently, making the heart less able to tolerate increased workloads. There are several things that can increase the heart’s workload during the aging process:
- Anxiety or stress
- Physical activity
Common Age-Related Heart Problems
There are a number of common heart problems that are associated with age:
- Angina: chest pain, pressure or squeezing in the chest caused by a temporary reduction of blood flow to the heart
- Atherosclerosis: hardening of the arteries caused by a plaque build-up in the arteries
- Coronary artery disease: atherosclerosis of the coronary arteries
- Congestive heart failure: a condition in which the heart is not able to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs
- Hypertension: high blood pressure
- Orthostatic hypotension: a drop in blood pressure when going from a sitting to a standing position (or from lying down to standing), which causes dizziness
- Atrial fibrillation, in which case the heart rate may increase and be irregular
Preventing Age-Related Heart Problems
Although heart problems become more common as people age, there are still things that you can do to prevent age-related heart problems:
- Exercise regularly. (Consult your physician before beginning an exercise program.)
- Do not smoke.
- Eat a healthy diet that is low in saturated fats.
- Control your weight.
- Have your blood pressure and cholesterol checked as recommended by your doctor.
- Take medications as prescribed.
If You Have Heart Disease
If you’ve been diagnosed with heart disease, a team of health care professionals at Wake Forest Baptist Health will help you with lifestyle changes that can improve your symptoms and prevent further damage to your heart. Your team may include heart doctors (cardiologists), nurse specialists, nutritionists and others.