Cardiovascular and circulatory diseases account for 25% of all deaths in the UK, and according to the British Heart Foundation, around 1.4 million people in the UK today have survived a heart attack.
Adults over the age of 65 are more likely to suffer from heart disease than younger people. There are a variety of reasons for this including lifestyle habits, diet and nutrition, but also changes to the physical structure of the heart as we age. The muscle cells within the heart begin to degenerate and the valves that direct blood flow can accumulate calcium deposits causing them to thicken and stiffen.
A sedentary and less active lifestyle (which is often associated with ageing) can also contribute to the weakening of the heart muscle making it less effective at pumping oxygen-rich blood around the body. All of these factors can increase the risk of someone developing heart problems as they age.
In this article, we will look further into heart disease and some of the changes to the heart that come with age, the signs to look out for as well as some things you can do to lower your risk of developing heart problems.
Heart disease is an umbrella term for several types of heart conditions and includes all heart and circulatory diseases such as heart attack, coronary heart disease (CHD), angina, hypertension, congenital heart disease and stroke. Heart disease is usually caused by the build-up of fatty deposits, known as plaques, on the inner walls of the arteries around the heart. These arteries are responsible for delivering nutrient-rich blood and oxygen to the heart to keep it pumping.
When plaque accumulates inside these arteries, they become narrow or blocked. Plaque can also cause blood clots to form which reduce the flow of blood through the heart. When the heart muscles are deprived of the oxygen and nutrients they need from the blood they can die.
Damage or death to part of the heart muscle as a result of a blocked artery is known as myocardial infarction. A weakened heart will have less ability to adequately pump blood around the rest of the body resulting in heart failure and the backing up of blood or fluid in the lungs and legs.
The following are some of the changes that occur to the cardiovascular system and heart organ as we age:
Certain factors such as lack of exercise, high blood pressure, cholesterol, poor diet and obesity all contribute to the risk of developing heart disease. Heart disease can be fatal, and symptoms can present themselves in many ways. If an elderly person is experiencing symptoms such as chest pains it could be a sign that they are having a heart attack. This is when the heart muscle is starved of the blood it requires due to a blocked artery. The faster you can act in this situation the better as the longer it takes for the blood to begin flowing again the greater the risk of damage to the heart and even death.
Having first aid knowledge by undertaking training such as an emergency first aid course in Newcastle can be invaluable in saving someone’s life. Being aware of the early warning signs and knowing how to act in an emergency such as this will not only help the patient remain calm but more importantly, could save their life. Before outlining some first aid advice, we will look at some of the signs of heart disease to look out for.
Pain, pressure or tightness in the chest can be an early sign of a heart attack. Chest pain often occurs during physical activity and improves when at rest. Discomfort in the chest can also come in waves that last a few minutes at a time. Chest pain may also spread to the arms, neck or jaw.
A feeling of light-headedness or dizziness can occur for many reasons such as low blood sugar, dehydration, or standing up too fast. However, dizziness that is accompanied by other symptoms like shortness of breath or chest pain may be a sign of a drop in blood pressure resulting from a heart problem.
Problems such as nausea, vomiting, heartburn, indigestion, or stomach pain are more common in women than in men and are often a sign that certain parts of the body are deprived of blood. When coupled with sweating or other symptoms this can signal a heart attack or CHD.
Chronic exhaustion or fatigue for no apparent reason can be a sign that the heart is unable to efficiently pump blood around the body due to reasons such as a weak valve or blockage in an artery.
Unexplained or excessive sweating and breaking out into a cold sweat can be an early sign of a heart problem as the heart has to exert more effort to pump blood through clogged arteries. Combined with other symptoms, sweating can signal the onset of a heart attack.
This can occur either when active or at rest. Simple, non-exerting activities which were once relatively effortless but have now become difficult and result in shortness of breath can be a sign of a heart problem.
Changes in the rhythm or beat of the heart such as an irregular heartbeat, fluttering, palpitations or a skipped beat can signify a heart condition. When deprived of blood, the heart can display signs similar to feelings of panic or excess caffeine intake.
If you notice this symptom in yourself or another and they last for more than a few seconds it could be an early warning sign of a heart condition called atrial fibrillation or some other heart condition. The more of these symptoms a person is displaying the greater the likelihood they are suffering from heart disease. Below are some of the steps to take in this situation.
CHD is the most common form of heart disease and occurs when the arteries in the heart struggle to supply it with enough blood, oxygen and nutrients. This can result in a heart attack. Time is of the essence when someone is having a heart attack. The first hour, known as the golden hour, is the most important, so taking the correct steps during this period can save someone’s life.
There are many things you can do in your daily life to keep your heart healthy and reduce your risk of developing heart disease.
A healthy diet that is low in fat and high in fibre is recommended. This should include at least five portions of fresh fruit and vegetables each day. Limit your intake of salt, sugar and saturated fats that raise cholesterol levels as this can contribute to an increase in blood pressure and the hardening of the arteries.
Foods that are high in saturated fats include meat, hard cheeses, butter, lard, cakes and biscuits, and cream. Unsaturated fats from foods such as oily fish, nuts, seeds and avocados are a healthier alternative which can help to reduce blockages in the arteries.
Regular exercise along with a healthy diet can help you keep a healthy weight and enable your heart and cardiovascular system to operate more efficiently. It can also help to lower cholesterol levels and maintain a healthy blood pressure.
As with any muscle in the body, the heart will benefit from regular cardiovascular exercise helping it to strengthen and pump blood around the body with greater ease. Aerobic exercise is best for conditioning the cardiovascular system and can include activities such as walking, bicycling, swimming, dancing or gardening.
Smoking results in nearly 20,000 deaths from heart disease in the UK each year and increases the risk of a heart attack by up to four times. The chemicals contained in cigarettes cause the formation of sticky deposits known as plaque to accumulate on the walls of the arteries as well as thicken the blood creating blockages and clots. Nicotine is also known to increase the heart rate and blood pressure. By giving up smoking, you will significantly reduce your risk of developing heart disease.
Regularly consuming too much alcohol can cause an increase in blood pressure, known as hypertension. Over time, hypertension puts a strain on the muscles in the heart which can lead to heart disease and an increased chance of a heart attack or stroke. Alcohol should be consumed within the recommended limits as set out below:
As people age, changes in their arteries can cause them to harden and lead to problems such as high hypertension. Eating a healthy diet, managing your stress levels, exercising regularly, reducing your salt intake and limiting the amount of alcohol you drink can all help you maintain healthy blood pressure. A healthy target blood pressure should be under 140/90mmHg.
There is an increased risk of developing CHD if you have diabetes. By exercising and keeping your weight in check as well as your blood pressure you can also help to manage your blood sugar levels.
By following the guidance and advice in this article you can greatly benefit your heart health with age and reduce your chance of developing cardiovascular problems.
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