Cardiac Problems

As a part of different physiological changes that occur with old age, heart also undergoes some subtle changes even in the absence of disease. Heart muscles may become stiffer. The walls of the chamber become thicker. The strength of contractions is not able to increase with exercises. The pumping of blood becomes slower and maintaining blood pressure becomes difficult. The rate of this change or decline in cardiovascular function varies greatly among individuals.

The common cardiac condition in the elderly are

  • Isolated systolic hypertension
  • Myocardial infarction
  • Orthostatic hypertension
  • Arrhythmias
  • Heart failure
  • Aortic stenosis
  • Complete heart block
  • Atrial Fibrillation
  • Stroke
SymptomsCausesDiagnosisTreatmentPrevention

Few general symptoms that may refer to a heart related ailment:

  • Chest discomfort or pain
  • Upper body discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach
  • Shortness of breath may occur with or before chest discomfort
  • Palpitations
  • Weakness
  • Nausea (feeling sick to your stomach) and/or vomiting
  • Lightheadedness or fainting
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat

Most cardiac risk factors affect an individual in old age. Most of these risk factors are modifiable and with proper treatment and levels of activity can be controlled. The risk factors include:

  • Hypertension
  • Diabetes
  • Cholesterol
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Lack of exercise
  • Improper diet

Elderly people with symptoms suggestive of heart diseases undergo essentially the same diagnostic process as younger patients. This includes medical history, physical examination, and electrocardiogram.

In many cases, noninvasive tests will also be used. Echocardiography and nuclear scans may help to reveal more information about the heart’s structure and function. In specific cases, the use of cardiac catheterization or other invasive testing is necessary to guide treatment or provide a blueprint for surgery or angioplasty.

The exercise stress test, a standard procedure in diagnosing and assessing the severity of coronary heart disease, may prove difficult for older patients who are unable to walk rapidly on a treadmill because of arthritis, decreased muscle strength, or other medical problems. Even at a very low workload, however, the electrocardiogram taken during a stress test may document the occurrence of myocardial ischemia or arrhythmias and yield valuable information.

The treatment involves more factors than age alone. Physician and patient should decide together on an individualized treatment plan, based on overall health, life-style, and expectations. The treatment options include medications, before recommending surgery or other invasive treatments. In the elderly, some cardiac procedures or surgery may not necessarily prolong life, but they may improve its quality through the relief of symptoms such as chest pain, fainting, and weakness. Procedures such as balloon angioplasty and coronary bypass surgery, which aim to open blocked coronary arteries, are considered relatively safe for many older persons. However, no invasive treatment is without risk of complications.

It is possible to lower the risk of cardiac diseases at any age. Most of these are lifestyle modifications.

  • Choosing a healthy eating plan.
    Choosing foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium.  As part of a healthy diet, eat plenty of fruits and vegetablesfiber-rich whole grainsfish (preferably oily fish-at least twice per week), nuts, legumes and seeds and try eating some meals without meat.
  • Being physically active. This should include at least 2½ hours (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity (e.g., brisk walking).
  • Getting a regular health check up.
  • Keeping vascular risk factors under control.
  • Watching your weight.
Current Category: Cardiac Problems
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