Understanding Heart Disease In Later Life
A heart condition is a scary and supremely difficult thing to have to deal with at any point in life. Does it become scarier as you get older? That’s hard to say. When you’re young, it feels unfair for it to have happened to you while you’re still youthful and active. But when you’re older, though you may feel less surprised, you still have to deal with the difficulty of doing anything about it. When you’re much older, you’re less physically able to change your lifestyle.
It’s fair to say that whether you’re young or old, a heart condition is a terrible card to be dealt. The following article is going to be tilted more towards those suffering from the issue at an older age. This is because of the increased difficulty and sensitivity of many areas. Young people shouldn’t feel like their heart problems are being ignored, however. There are several support sources tailored towards younger people. That being said, this article will contain information of value to people of all ages. This goes whether or not you have a heart condition of which you are aware.
The statistics: understanding that it might happen to you
Many people live with the idea that something will go wrong with their heart eventually. They don’t necessarily believe that they’ll have a heart attack; they just recognise that their heart is going to get weaker as they get older. But the amount of people who are taking action to keep their heart healthy isn’t quite high enough. The fact is that the statistics on heart conditions paint quite a bleak and dangerous picture. A picture that should be prompting everyone into taking action to help themselves.
Every year, about 650,000 people in the United States die due to a problem with their heart. That works out at about one in every four deaths, which makes it the leading killer in this country. People often say that that obesity or smoking or stress is the biggest killer in the Western world. But all of those things directly affect the likelihood of a fatal heart problem. They are contributing factors, but the fatal problem itself is usually a problem with the heart.
It’s estimated that 735,000 Americans a year have a heart attack. Approximately 25-30% of these people won’t be suffering their first heart attack, either. One of the most alarming statistics is that more than half of the people who are struck by a condition didn’t recognise any symptoms beforehand.
Not all heart conditions are alike
One of the problems with diagnosis is that people often assume heart conditions are all the same. The thinking is that, while there may be very subtle differences, they pretty much all give off the same symptoms. They all boil down to the same basic problem, all with very similar causes and possible treatments.
Reading the above paragraph, you probably guessed what I’m going to say next. There are many, many different types of heart conditions. They can vary in severity. They certainly vary in symptoms and treatments. Some can be recognised very quickly. Some can linger for a long time before being noticed. It’s important to know exactly what’s out there when it comes to heart problems. It would be impractical to list them all here. But I will list some the more common ones here to help emphasise my point.
The most common heart problem in the United States is called coronary heart disease. It’s also one of the most dangerous. Its danger stems not only from its intrinsic risks to your system. Its danger also stems from the fact that, for many people, the first sign that you have it is a heart attack. Coronary heart disease is the result of a plaque buildup in the walls of the arteries. Plaque is largely made up of cholesterol, but will contain other harmful substances. This buildup causes the arteries to narrow, partially or completely preventing correct blood flow. (This process is given the appropriately scary name of atherosclerosis.)
Other types include cardiomegaly, which is an enlarged heart usually caused by high blood pressure. There’s arrhythmia, which is an irregular beating of the heart. (There are even several types of arrhythmia, further complicating things.) There’s cardiomyopathy, which is a disease of a particular muscle in the heart. Obviously, I could go on. But I think you’ve got the message: there are a lot of kinds!
The symptoms: recognising dangers signs before it’s too late
It’s important to know what the symptoms of a heart problem might be. Unfortunately, most heart problems won’t make themselves known until a heart attack occurs. But it’s not that there are literally no symptoms before something so extreme happens. The symptoms are there and they can be noticeable. The problem is that they can be very subtle.
Another problem is that telling someone to look out for a particular symptom might not be as useful as it sounds. It’s easy enough to say, for example, that a regular shortness of breath is one of the most common early signs of a heart problem. But the signs of shortness of breath might not be clear to your average person. When they think of a shortness of breath, they’ll think of a near-inability to breathe for a few seconds. As though they’d just gone for an intense run even though they’ve been doing nothing particularly strenuous. But a shortness of breath can manifest as general dizziness, tiredness or discomfort. Changes in breathing are subtle and unlikely to be recognised by the person doing that breathing.
So while you should know about the most common symptoms, it’s not enough to merely know their names. You have to study them all to some extent, so that you know when to recognise them. They’re not always as obvious as their names may suggest! Symptoms of heart problems include fatigue, limb swelling, chest pains, coughing, and palpitations. Be sure to read up on common symptoms.
The causes and preventive measures: what you can (and should) do about it now
The most common causes of heart problems are the most common causes of most general health problems. That seems like too wide or vague a statement, but it’s true. The reason you’re always told to do this or do that because they’re good for your health can usually to boiled down to one thing. Those things are what’s good for your heart. I made a reference to this earlier.
Let’s take, for example, the things people do in order to avoid obesity. We make changes to our diets, making sure we limit the amount of fat and sugar we allow into our bodies. We go running to ensure that we’re burning the calories we don’t need. The externally visible sign of not doing these things enough is severe weight gain. This can lead to obesity. We often (and correctly) associate obesity with early death.
But what about obesity causes death, exactly? It’s the increased pressure on the heart. It wears itself out trying to pump blood all around an obese body. And that terrible diet will also cause plaque buildup in the arteries, leading to the previously-mentioned CAD. It should be noted here that just because you’re not obese, it doesn’t mean you aren’t at risk of a heart condition. Bad diets don't always result in noticeable weight gain. But they do affect your arteries nonetheless.
So the most common causes of heart problems are a lack of exercise, poor diet, smoking and severe stress. (The latter causes high blood pressure, putting strain on the heart.) But if you have a heart condition and the causes aren’t immediately clear, you should consult your doctor. Causes aren’t always something you could have prevented. In the case of arrhythmia, for example, the causes can be particularly elusive. In such a case, you can go to an institution such as Abbott Electrophysiology to get the answers you need.
Heart problems and the elderly
It’s common to believe that the elderly are particularly susceptible to heart conditions. But it depends how you look at it. It’s true that heart problems are often identified when a person is getting on in years. But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t worry about it until you’re older. Much of the time, the causes of these conditions are lifelong habits.
Of course, this isn’t always the case. Even with excellent care of the body, issues can still occur in old age. Your heart undergoes subtle changes over the changes, regardless of the presence or lack of disease. Just like all other muscles in the body, the muscles of the heart will start to work less efficiently. It won’t pump blood with the strength it used to. It also won’t respond as quickly to the messages the rest of the body tries to send to it. For example, it will become less responsive to adrenaline rushes.
The problem many elderly people have is that it seems to be too late to do anything about it. If you’re elderly, or you’re caring for an elderly person, it’s important that you don’t allow this mindset to take hold. It’s not too late to quit smoking or change your diet; positive changes will be palpable within a matter of months. And it is possible to do regular exercise. You will need to be more careful about it than you may have been in your youth. But you can still be friendly to your heart with some light cardio routines!