Issues of the Heart as We Age

By: Jody Smith

With aging, changes in the heart and cardiac function are normal. Commonly, there is a slight increase in the size of the heart, particularly the left ventricle. As the walls of the heart thicken, there is decreased blood volume in the ventricles. The chambers of the heart may fill at a slower rate than in the past.

Arrhythmias or abnormal beating of the heart may develop. Deposits of liposfuscin (aging pigment) may occur in the heart muscle as heart muscle cells break down. The heart valves may become more thick and more stiff, and a heart murmur may develop.

Orthostatic hypotension causes low blood pressure when you arise from sitting or lying down. This reduction of blood flow can cause dizziness.

Conversely, blood pressure in older people may generally be too high, perhaps because the aorta, or main artery leading from the heart, gradually becomes thickened and eventually becomes less pliable with age. Higher blood pressure imposes a constant burden upon the heart, making it labor harder than it used to.

Even the constitution of your blood will change as you get on in age. Your bloodstream has less fluid moving through it, because as we get older, the amount of body water we have decreases. We may also have less red blood cells, the absence of which can leave us feeling extremely tired.

Anemia, arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and angina are heart-related conditions that may occur as we get older. Congestive heart failure, coronary artery disease and heart valve diseases like aortic stenosis (aortic valve narrows) may also develop.

Problems with the cardiovascular system that may occur are blood clots, peripheral vascular disease, and varicose veins. Effects on the cardiovascular system can go so far as the brain in cases of strokes or transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) when the flow of blood to the brain is obstructed.

As women age, particularly over the age of 55, their risk for heart disease also increases. More women die of heart disease than men.

The warning signs in women are different from the ones that happen to men which can delay recognition by women of a possible heart attack.

She may be short of breath, or lightheaded. She may experience sweating, nausea or vomiting. She may be struck with intense fatigue.

A woman may have chest pain or pressure which can be a warning sign of a heart attack. Unlike for men, pain in the abdomen, neck, shoulder or upper back can suggest a heart attack.

In many cases, by the time a woman suspects she may be having a heart attack, the damage can already be extensive, and may be irreversible.

Awareness of the risks can improve your odds of recognizing the early warnings of any heart or cardiovascular condition. If you experience any symptoms that may indicate heart or cardiovascular problems, seek medical help immediately. Don't take chances with your heart.

Sources:

Aging changes in the heart and blood vessels

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/004006.htm

Heart Diseases -- Prevention

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/heartdiseasesprevention.html

Heart disease in women: Understand symptoms and risk factors

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heart-disease/HB00040

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