Functions of the Heart
Our heart is a muscle, divided into 4 chambers. The right and left atriums occupy the upper chambers while the right and left ventricles fill the bottom chambers. The right side of the heart receives blood from the body and pumps it through the lungs to re-oxygenate the blood. The left side of the heart pushes the replenished blood back through the body. This cycle repeats with every beat of the heart. Blood travels through the body’s circulatory system. Blood vessels, arteries, arterioles, capillaries, venules, and veins make up the circulatory system. This system delivers necessary oxygen and nutrients to our bodies. It also removes carbon dioxide and other waste products.
Types of Heart Disease
Heart disease is a term used to describe any disorder of the heart. There are many types of heart diseases. Some you may be born with while others develop overtime. For example, acquired heart valve disease develops over a person’s lifetime. It occurs when a normal functioning heart slowly declines due to family history, illness, or aging. Acquired heart valve disease typically affect the mitral and aortic valves. Congenital valve disease, which is present at birth, is a result of abnormalities where heart valves do not fully form or form into the wrong shape or size. Coronary heart disease, myocardial infarction, and arrhythmia are some examples of heart disease.
- Men over the age of 65 are at greatest risk of developing heart disease
- Women over the age of 75 are at greatest risk of developing heart disease
- Family History
- There are many congenital heart diseases that are passed through genetics
- Health History
- People with kidney disease, metabolic disease, certain infections, and hypertension are more predisposed to developing heart disease.
- High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)
- High blood pressure enlarges the heart. This results in the tissues within the heart stretching causing leaks.
- Autoimmune Diseases
- These types of diseases typically cause inflammation particularly within the heart which can lead to decreased function.
- Chemotherapy and Radiation Treatments
- These types of drugs can cause damage to the heart valves.
- Diet Medications
- Certain medication used for weight loss can lead to heart abnormalities. These conditions typically improve once the medications have been stopped.
How Hearts Change with Age
Heart disease is the most frequent condition found among the elderly. It also the number one cause of death for the elderly. Normal aging (wear and tear) is the most common cause of a multitude of adverse changes within the structure of the heart. For example, the heart of an elderly man does not beat as fast with increased activity causing his body to fatigue faster. Over time, fatty deposits build up on the walls of arteries, causing obstruction of blood flow. The most common change is the hardening of arteries leading to high blood pressure.
Something to keep in mind with Heart Disease is the severity of symptoms do not always correlate with the severity of the disease. One could experience mild symptoms but have a serious condition. It is important, if any of these symptoms are noted below, a doctor is consulted.
- Shortness of breath
- Dizziness / Light Headedness
- Chest Pain
- Chest Palpitations
- Sudden Weight Gain
- Abdominal Pain
- Decreased Appetite
- Numbness or tingling
- Cold Sweats
- Living with Heart Disease
Heart disease requires lifelong precautions that can include but are not limited to:
- Regular Physical Exams
- Regular EKG’s, CT Scans, Chest X-Rays, etc.
- Blood Thinners o
- Medications that control rapid or irregular heart beats
- Blood Pressure Medications
- Exercise and Diet
- Exercise aids in reducing cholesterol and blood pressure
- Restricted salt intake. Salt causes the body to retain fluid which can stress the heart
- Dental Care
- Bacteria in the mouth can spread to blood and pass through the heart. This may cause endocarditis a potentially life-threatening condition.
Heart Healthy Lifestyle Choices for the Elderly
Safe exercises are a key component to defending the elderly against heart disease. Function and mobility in the muscles weaken as we age. Being active is the best way to slow muscle break down. Here is a list of low impact exercises that are safe for elderly to participate in.
- Chair Squats
- Wall Pushups
- Single Foot Stand
- Tip Toe Lifts
- Wall Snow Angles
- Water Aerobics
Diet plays a big role in remaining healthy with heart disease. And it is not just about what not to eat. Since many people with heart failure are often short on important nutrients, we should focus on eating more foods that are healthy. This might include
Fruits – oranges, pears, berries, avocados, and apples
Vegetables – Dark green leafy vegetables, beans, and peas
Whole grains – Brown rice and oatmeal
Seafood – Oily fish such as salmon, trout, or herring. Try these in place of poultry or red meat about twice a week
Nuts and seeds – walnuts and sunflower seeds
Dairy – choose fat free or low-fat options
Olive oil – cook with this in place of solid fats like butter
Coping with Heart Disease
You may be experiencing a myriad of difficult emotions if you or someone you love has been diagnosed with heart disease. Learning as much as you can about the condition and the treatments available is a great way to become more hopeful. Actively managing your condition by tracking your treatment goals and celebrating your achievements will assist in promoting a higher quality of life.
Sharing your experiences with friends and family members can also give you hope. There are multiple support groups for people with heart conditions. Getting to know people going through the same things can build confidence in dealing with your diagnosis. Reading stories from other survivors is an excellent way to grow hope. You are not alone in your diagnosis.