Some don’t know it, but the heart and blood vessels change with age. According to the National Institute on Aging, people over 65 years of age are much more likely to have problems with their heart and blood vessels, including heart attack, stroke, heart disease and heart failure.
How the heart works
The heart is a strong muscle in the chest that pumps blood throughout the body. It works like an engine to keep the body running and is controlled by an electrical system that determines how fast and how hard the heart beats. The heart is divided into four different sections, two upper chambers called atria and two lower chambers called ventricles. Each chamber is separated by a valve that opens and closes when blood enters or leaves. The right side of the heart receives blood low in oxygen from the body and pumps it to the lungs to receive oxygen. The left side of the heart pumps the blood high in oxygen to the rest of the body.
According to the NIA, as people age, the heart and blood vessels lose some of their ability to function as efficiently as when a person was younger. Over many years, fatty deposits begin to build up in the blood vessels, specifically the arteries, causing them to stiffen and narrow. Stiffening of the arteries is called arteriosclerosis and narrowing of the arteries is called atherosclerosis. The muscles of the heart also become weakened and the chambers of the heart can increase in size. A weakened heart may lead to an arrhythmia, or an irregular heartbeat, while an increase in size of the chambers will decrease the amount of blood the heart can hold, causing it to fill more slowly. The valves of the heart can also stiffen with age, limiting the flow of blood into and out of each chamber.
The NIA defines heart disease as the buildup of fatty deposits in the walls of the coronary arteries. The coronary arteries are located outside of the heart and are responsible for delivering blood and oxygen to the heart muscle. Over time, as fatty deposits build up, they can block the flow of blood to the heart muscle or cause a rupture in the arteries. This leads to a lack of oxygen-rich blood to the muscles of the heart, resulting in chest pain or even heart attack [cell death of heart muscle]. In order to protect both the heart and body, it’s important for people to educate themselves on the symptoms of heart disease and the steps to take to improve heart health.
The NIA lists several signs and symptoms of heart disease including:
∫ Chest pain, pressure or discomfort
∫ Chest pain during physical activity that gets better with rest
∫ Pain, numbness or tingling in the shoulders, arms, neck, jaw or back
∫ Shortness of breath at rest or during activity
∫ Feeling lightheaded, dizzy or confused
∫ Headache, feeling tired or fatigued
∫ Nausea or vomiting
∫ Cold sweats
∫ Swelling in the ankles, feet, legs, stomach or neck
∫ Difficulty performing normal activities
∫ Difficulty exercising or being physically active
People with heart disease may or may not experience symptoms, so it’s important to regularly visit a healthcare provider.
In order to protect the heart, the NIA recommends:
∫ Following a healthy diet filled with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and low-fat dairy
∫ Increasing physical activity to get 150 minutes of activity each week
∫ Maintaining a healthy weight
∫ Quitting smoking
∫ Minimizing alcohol consumption
∫ Managing stress
∫ Managing diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol
Individuals who have diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol, should talk with their healthcare provider about managing their condition. The provider will be able to give a plan that best fits a persons lifestyle and needs.
For more information on heart health, talk to a healthcare provider or contact HealthLink Littauer at (518) 736-1120.
Persons with questions can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our wellness center located at 2 Colonial Court in downtown Johnstown.
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