Heart Disease in Senior Citizens

Heart disease is a general term that refers to various, more specific heart conditions. As we age, risk of heart disease increases. It is important that senior citizens practice heart healthy behaviors like getting enough physical activity and eating a well-balanced diet. It is just as important that senior citizens understand heart disease so that they can prevent and, if necessary, detect and treat their condition. Those involved in senior citizen elder care should also know about heart disease.  Recognizing the symptoms and knowing how to respond to certain heart conditions can save lives. Coronary Heart Disease (CHD)Coronary heart disease can lead to heart attack or other serious complications and is the most common type of heart disease in the United States. When the coronary arteries (the vessels that carry blood to the heart) build up plaque, they become narrower. This makes it more difficult for blood to reach the heart, resulting in CHD. The narrowing and “hardening” of the arteries due to plaque buildup is referred to as atherosclerosis. This can cause decreased blood flow, and therefore oxygen supply, to the heart. In some cases of CHD, oxygen supply may be completely cut off to a portion of the heart, resulting in a heart attack. Angina, a condition characterized by chest pain or discomfort, can also occur when the heart is not getting sufficient oxygen. Sometimes CHD results in heart failure, a severe condition where the heart cannot pump properly. Irregular heart beats known as arrhythmias may also occur. Angina is the most common symptom in people with CHD. Still, some people do not experience symptoms and are not diagnosed until they have a heart attack. It is important that both people with symptoms and those at high risk undergo tests to diagnose CHD.  Factors that increase risk include high blood pressure, high (LDL) cholesterol levels, high blood glucose levels, and a history of heart disease. Treatment involves addressing unhealthy lifestyle factors that increase the risk of developing CHD and its complications. Medicines to reduce high (LDL) cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, decreased blood flow, or other possible problems may be helpful. Additional medical treatments or surgical procedures may also be necessary. Heart AttackHeart attack, also referred to as myocardial infarction, occurs when the oxygen supply to a portion of the heart is severely reduced. When the heart doses not receive sufficient oxygen, its cells begin to die. As more time passes, greater damage is done and death can result. Heart attack is most commonly caused by coronary artery disease, but may also be the result of a severe spasm of the coronary artery. A person experiencing a heart attack needs immediate emergency care. For a person having a heart attack, the more quickly emergency treatment is administered, the greater the chances of survival. Because of this, it is important to recognize symptoms of a heart attack and quickly call 9-1-1. Physicians, as well as emergency medical personnel, can perform the emergency treatment. A trained bystander may also perform CPR or operate an automated external defibrillator, if accessible. Heart attack may result in permanent damage to the heart. This makes heart attack survivors at greater risk of experiencing another heart attack as well as other serious complications. Heart attack survivors should undergo cardiac rehabilitation to help improve their cardiovascular health. Some lifestyle changes included in rehabilitation are increasing physical activity, dietary changes, stress management, quitting smoking, and weight loss. Medication may also be necessary. Before retuning to daily activities such as driving, work, physical activity, sex, and air travel, heart attack survivors should consult their doctor. Other ConditionsAngina: When the heart is not getting enough oxygen, chest pain known as angina may result. It can be experienced as a squeezing pain or pressure in the chest. Pain in the shoulders, neck, jaw, arms, or back may also occur. Other times, a person with angina thinks they are experiencing indigestion. Angina is classified as either stable or unstable. If angina occurs under physical, mental, or emotional stress it is referred to as stable. Unstable angina occurs when a person is at rest, and without any apparent cause. Aortic Aneurism and Dissection: The aorta extends from the heart supplying blood to all parts of the body. When the aorta expands or dilates an aneurysm results. When the aorta ruptures an emergency situation called dissection results.Acute Coronary Syndrome: This term describes people with an acute heart attack or unstable angina. Arrhythmia: An arrhythmia is the irregular beating of the heart. Electrical impulses control the heartbeat. If these impulses are disrupted,an arrhythmia results. Some are serious while others are less severe at first but become more serious over time. Cardiomyopathy: When the heart muscle is weakened or there is a change in the structure of the heart muscle, cardiomyopathy occurs. It can be caused by previous heart attacks, infections, and other factors; and may result in abnormal functioning of the heart. Congenital Heart Disease: Congenital heart disease is the result of birth defects that disrupt the blood flow through the heart. Examples include abnormalities in the chambers of the heart or heart valves.  Genes as well as adverse exposures during pregnancy can cause this type of heart disease. Heart Failure: This is sometimes referred to as chronic or congestive heart failure. This is a serious condition that occurs when the heart does not pump enough blood, leaving organs without sufficient oxygen supply. Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD): This disease is characterized by the “hardening” of the arteries that supply oxygen to the limbs. It is usually caused by arteriosclerosis, the plaque buildup that narrows the arteries. Insufficient oxygen supply to the limbs may cause muscle pain, numbness, and swelling in the arms or legs. Rheumatic Heart Disease: This disease refers to heart damage caused by inflammation and scarring resulting from rheumatic fever. 

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