It is thought that heart disease is increasing to epidemic proportions. It is a merciless killer, its symptoms are often silent and it doesn’t care your age, gender or socioeconomic status. Heart disease unfortunately affects all age groups, but affects senior health with an alarming intensity.
Heart disease can actually mean any type of heart condition. However, when we think of heart disease, we are typically thinking of plaque buildup in the vessels of the heart. Causes of this plaque buildup (or “atherosclerosis”) include:
- Unhealthy diet
- A sedentary lifestyle
- Family history
While the elderly can’t do anything about their family history, the other causes of atherosclerosis are modifiable. Losing weight, quitting smoking, getting exercise and eating healthier will not reverse atherosclerosis, but it will prevent further damage from occurring.
As heart disease progresses, complications arise. Worsening plaque buildup places extra stress on the heart. The stress can cause the heart to not pump as efficiently, causing heart failure. If a piece of the plaque breaks off, it can cause a heart attack of stroke. It can cause decreased blood flow to the extremities, causing peripheral artery disease. It can even cause a sudden cardiac arrest, which is often fatal. Survival depends on early intervention, and is often irreversible.
Symptoms are mostly nonexistent. If the aging population does not have regular visits with a primary care provider, heart disease can go undetected or not be diagnosed until a larger problem occurs. Once clinical manifestations occur, it is often when the disease has advanced. Chest pain, often accompanied by neck, jaw, throat or arm pain, and shortness of breath may occur. Pain, numbness or weakness may occur in extremities. Once these begin to occur, often treatment is aimed at decreasing the condition from worsening. The condition cannot be reversed, especially once it reaches this point.
The bottom line? Preventing heart disease BEFORE it occurs is ideal. Keeping appointments with doctors and forming healthy habits will prevent the disease from occurring. If heart disease has been detected, preventing the condition before it worsens is essential.