Cardiovascular Disease and Seniors

Seniors are at higher risk of developing some form of cardiovascular disease than people in any other age group, and as seniors age further, their risk increases.

Heart disease is the number one cause of death among both men and women 65 years of age and older. The physiology of aging, including cardiac, vascular and electrophysiological components can increase the extent and severity of symptoms of cardiovascular disease in seniors. The greater number of other health issues associated with aging can also lead seniors to be at a greater risk of developing some sort of cardiovascular disease.

Immobility, in particular, is a common condition associated with aging due to a range of possible factors. Not getting enough exercise is another major risk factor for cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular events like heart attacks. A lack of sufficient regular mobility can also lead to increased risks of falls, which can cause the ailments from a cardiovascular disease to be even worse.

Prevalence of Cardiovascular Disease Among Seniors

The incidence of cardiovascular disease (CVD) increases steadily as you age. According to the American Heart Association, more than 54 of every thousand people between 65 and 74 years of age have CVD. Those numbers climb to nearly double as seniors age another 10 years, only continuing to climb the older you are. An estimated 42 million people 60 years of age and older have at least one type of cardiovascular disease. While CVD is more common among men than women, approximately 70 percent of people of any gender between 60 and 79 years of age have some form of the disease. Of Americans 80 years of age and older, those figures jump to more than 80 percent.

Approximately two-thirds of deaths from CVD happen among people 75 years of age and older. Each year, the occurrences of heart attacks and other such cardiovascular events is greater in men and women alike at older age ranges. In other words, the older you get, the more likely you are to suffer a heart attack or other CVD related event. This tendency occurs more rapidly in men than women, with women tending to experience such events a decade or later than men of equivalent health. As men and women age, the gap between them in the prevalence of CVD events narrows.

Coronary Heart Disease and Seniors

One common form of CVD, particularly among seniors, is coronary heart disease (CHD). Among seniors between 60 and 79 years of age, approximately 20 percent of men and 10 percent of women have CHD. These rates increase dramatically as people age, with the rate in men increasing more rapidly than the rate in women. The average age for a person’s first heart attack is around 72 years among women and 64 years among men. The vast majority of deaths from CHD are among people 65 years of age and older.

Symptoms and warning signs of coronary heart disease include shortness of breath and chest discomfort or pain. CHD symptoms are harder to observe in seniors than in younger patients. There are many reasons for this, including the lack of symptoms only observable during exertion in seniors leading sedentary lifestyles. Moreover, the most common complaint of CHD patients is chest pain or discomfort, but abnormal chest pain or discomfort is common in seniors for all sorts of other reasons.

Angina Pectoris

Another common form of CVD, angina pectoris, occurs more in seniors than people of other age ranges. Angina pectoris, also known as stable angina, is chest discomfort or pain caused by CHD. If you have angina pectoris, you may feel a squeezing, fullness or pressure in the chest and/or discomfort in your arm, back, shoulder, jaw or neck. Also, more common in seniors than other patients with CVD are valvular heart diseases like aortic valve stenosis and mitral valve disease, as well as hypertension and dyslipidemia.

Cardiovascular Disease Treatment in Seniors

Prevention is certainly the most effective treatment for any form of CVD in seniors. When it cannot be avoided, seniors should receive a more specialized treatment compared to younger patients. Specifically, research has shown older patients may be inclined to place less emphasis on longevity and more on maintaining independence and reducing symptoms for the time they do have remaining. More traditional approaches to CVD treatment in younger people, such as laser surgery, stent placement, angioplasty, laser surgery and heart transplants may be less desirable for seniors as well as potentially riskier to perform. Even in the case of successful surgeries, the recovery can be prohibitively burdensome and also riddled with risk.

Instead of a full recovery, more common CVD treatment goals among seniors include increased ambulation, diminished symptoms of illness and fewer hospitalizations. Senior patients also tend to respond better to non-invasive and less invasive forms of treatment, particularly when other circumstances already place them at significant risk from some more traditional procedures.

Medications may be less effective or even contraindicated in seniors who are already taking multiple other medications for different health conditions. Before taking any new CVD medication, a senior should be thoroughly screened for interactions. In order to ensure the accuracy of this screening, you should always have a complete list available of all medications you are taking, both prescription and over-the-counter, including dosages. Among some of the CVD therapies shown to be more effective in seniors than other forms of treatment are the following:

  • For stable angina – Antiplatelet therapy, beta-blockers, renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system blockers and anti-anginal drugs like calcium channel blockers and nitrates.
  • For unstable angina – Oral or intravenous antiplatelet therapy, antithrombotic therapy and approaches favoring conservative management over early invasive therapies.
  • For ST-elevation myocardial infarction – Fibrinolytic therapy and percutaneous coronary intervention.
  • For arrhythmias – Atrial fibrillation and methods of rate control rather than rhythm control combined with anticoagulation medications to prevent stroke.

Beyond these options, the common prevention methods recommended by almost all cardiovascular doctors and the American Heart Association are to control cholesterol through proper diet and physical activity. It is also universally recommended across age groups to heavily restrict salt, sugar, alcohol and tobacco intake. Adhering to these recommendations can be even more crucial for seniors.

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