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How An Aging Heart Changes And Ways To Keep It Healthy

    How An Aging Heart Changes And Ways To Keep It Healthy

    The right side of the heart pumps blood to the lungs to obtain oxygen and expel carbon dioxide. The left side then receives and pumps oxygen-rich blood to the body. Blood leaves the heart first through the aorta and then through arteries that branch out and get smaller and smaller as they enter the tissues, where they become tiny capillaries. In capillaries, the blood delivers oxygen and nutrients to the tissues and receives carbon dioxide and waste products to expel. This is how the heart works, but, of course, you might experience changes as you age. Here’s what you need to know about how an aging heart changes.

    How An Aging Heart Changes

    Knowing how an aging heart changes can help you take better care of it as you grow older. Here are some things to keep in mind:

    Decreased Heart Rate

    Reports say the most common risk factor for low heart rate (bradycardia) is aging. Also, the natural pacemaker (sinoatrial or SA node) of the heart loses some of its cells as you grow older. This may cause a modest slowing of the heartbeat. Of course, other conditions can also result in bradycardia.

    An Increase In Heart Size

    Some people have a minor increase in heart size, particularly in the left ventricle. As the heart wall thickens, the volume of blood that the chamber can store may actually decrease despite the rise in heart size overall.

    Arrhythmias

    Due to some of the aging heart changes, the electrocardiogram (ECG) of a healthy older person can frequently deviate somewhat from the ECG of a healthy younger adult. Older people are more likely to experience abnormal rhythms (arrhythmias), such atrial fibrillation, which can be brought on by various forms of heart disease.

    Valve Issues

    Heart valves ensure that the heart flows in one direction and doesn’t regurgitate (flow backward). However, the “aging pigment,” lipofuscin, accumulates in the heart as it ages. It causes the heart muscle cells to slightly deteriorate, affecting the heart’s valves. An increase in valve stiffness is a common cause of heart murmurs in older people.

    Cholesterol plaque buildup can also be a cause of valvular heart disease in the elderly. In aging, valve degeneration is common and may involve multiple valves. This may result in valve stenosis or narrowing, which can also result in heart function decline. Valvular heart disease in the elderly is not just about backflow or stiffness of valve. Sometimes, problems in heart muscle and enlargement can cause valve problems/issues.

    Blood Pressure Changes

    As people age, their baroreceptors become less sensitive, which may help to explain why many older people experience orthostatic hypotension, a condition in which blood pressure drops when a person moves from lying down or sitting to standing. Orthostatic hypotension causes dizziness because there is less blood flowing through the body, so it is important to maintain a stable blood pressure when changing positions or engaging in other activities.

    In general, most older people experience a moderate rise in blood pressure, with the main artery from the heart (the aorta) becoming thicker, stiffer, and less flexible. This is likely related to changes in the connective tissue of the blood vessel wall, which raises blood pressure and makes the heart work harder, possibly resulting in thickening of the heart muscle (hypertrophy).

    Blood

    As people age, their total body water declines. As a result, there is less fluid in the bloodstream, which results in a minor shift in blood volume.

    Most white blood cells remain at the same levels. However, certain white blood cells important to immunity (neutrophils) decrease in number and their capacity to fight off bacteria, lowering the ability to resist infection. Red blood cells are produced more slowly in response to stress or illness, which causes a slower response to blood loss and anemia.

    Common Heart Issues Related To Aging

    • Coronary Artery Disease, which is more common in older people, may result in other heart conditions, like: heart attacks, abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias), shortness of breath with exertion, and angina (chest pain brought on by temporarily reduced blood flow to the heart muscle).
    • Arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) is also a relatively common condition because of fatty plaque that built up through the years.
    • Congestive heart failure is also very common in elderly persons, occurring 10 times more frequently in those over 75 than in younger adults.
    • Aneurysms are abnormal expansion or ballooning of a section of an artery caused by weakening in the blood vessel wall. And if an aneurysm bursts, it may result in bleeding and death. Aneurysms may form in one of the major arteries from the heart or in the brain.
    • Other heart and blood vessel issues include the following: Varicose veins, blood clots, deep vein thrombosis, thrombophlebitis, peripheral vascular disease, which causes claudication (intermittent leg pain when walking).
    • Valvular heart disease like mitral stenosis, atrial fibrillation, and chronic venous insufficiency

    Aging Heart Changes: What You Can Do

    It’s best to include physical activity in your daily routine to enhance heart health. Try walking, swimming, or other enjoyable activities. Frequent moderate physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight and reduce your risk of heart disease.

    Of course, eat a balanced diet that includes lean proteins like fish, as well as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, high-fiber meals, and foods low in saturated fat and salt.

    Likewise, do your best to stop smoking. It causes artery hardening and raises blood pressure and heart rate. If you currently smoke or use other tobacco products, ask your doctor for help quitting. In addition, try to quit alcohol as well.

    Manage stress. It can damage your heart; find ways to relieve it, such as through exercise, talk therapy, or meditation. Get adequate sleep, especially good sleep, which helps your heart and blood vessels recover and repair. Aim for seven to nine hours every night.

    Finally, work closely with your doctor. Get annual blood pressure checks. If you have diabetes, heart disease, kidney issues, or any other disorders, your blood pressure may need to be regularly monitored. Have monthly heart checkups and laboratory exams to see if you need to address anything.

    Key Takeaways

    Taking care of your heart is important for healthy aging, especially since aging triggers some changes in the heart that might affect how it functions. Even making small changes in your daily life can help you live longer and better. In general, you can support your overall health by staying active, eating and sleeping well, and going to the doctor regularly.

    Learn more about Heart Health here.

    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Sources

    1) Is a Slow Heart Rate Good or Bad for You?, https://health.clevelandclinic.org/is-a-slow-heart-rate-good-or-bad-for-you/, Accessed August 31, 2022
    2) Aging changes in the heart and blood vessels, https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/004006.htm#:~:text=The%20baroreceptors%20become%20less%20sensitive,blood%20flow%20to%20the%20brain.,Accessed August 31, 2022
    3) Arteriosclerosis / atherosclerosis, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/arteriosclerosis-atherosclerosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20350569,Accessed August 31, 2022
    4) Aging changes in the heart and blood vessels, https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/004006.htm#:~:text=In%20people%20older%20than%2075,more%20common%20with%20older%20age.,Accessed August 31, 2022

    5) Aging: What to expect, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/healthy-aging/in-depth/aging/art-20046070, Accessed August 31, 2022

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    Written by Hello Doctor Medical Panel Updated 2 weeks agoMedically reviewed by Lauren Labrador, MD, FPCP, DPCC
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