When Your Heart Turns 65…


Turning 65 brings benefits–Medicare, Social Security (unless you’re a 70-or-bust holdout), maybe retiring or at least downsizing your hours. But—and there’s always that “but,” right?

It’s also the age at which your doctor starts taking any symptoms with even a whiff of cardiac involvement very seriously.  He or she may have previously chalked up a complaint of chest tightness to your tendency to scarf down too much pizza, or a bit of acid reflux….but no longer.

The critical age 

“Symptoms should always be taken seriously in any age group, but especially in people age 65 plus,” says Guy L. Mintz, MD, Northwell Health’s director of cardiovascular health and lipidology at the Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital in Manhasset, NY.

There’s solid math behind that statement. The average age for a first heart attack in men is 65, and 72 for women. One in 3 people over age 60 have some form of cardiovascular disease.

Heart disease should be ”the first diagnosis considered when an older adult presents with chest pain,” says Carolyn Kaloostian, MD, MPH, family and geriatric medicine specialist at Keck Medicine of USC, Los Angeles. That’s especially true if it’s accompanied by excess sweating, clammy skin, nausea and other problems, she says.

Behind the number 

“By age 65, people have had a long history of exposure to cardiovascular risk factors,”  Mintz says. These include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, high blood sugar or even diabetes, obesity, lack of exercise, sleep problems such as lack of sleep or apnea, (the cessation of breathing during sleep).

Patients 65 plus are also at increased risk for abnormal heart rhythms, such as atrial fibrillation, which greatly increases a risk of stroke, Mintz says.

It’s also known that certain minority groups are affected more.  African-Americans are up to two times more likely than whites to develop high blood pressure before age 55, a recent study found.  American Indians, Alaskan natives, Hispanics and African-Americans are more likely than whites to have diabetes.

Why so many tests?

Why is it so important to run tests? To get to the root of the symptoms, and to prevent the first symptom of a heart attack from being the heart attack,  Mintz says.

Among the tests your doctor might order, say Mintz and Kaloostian:

  • Treadmill exercise stress test (Evaluates heart rate and blood pressure as you walk)
  • Nuclear stress test (Evaluates heart rate, blood pressure and blood flow to the heart muscle.)
  • Stress echocardiography (Measures blood pressure and heart rate as you exercise on a treadmill)
  • Coronary computed tomography angiography (Uses CT scan to examine arteries supplying blood to the heart to see if they are narrowed.)
  • Coronary artery calcium scorings (Uses CT scan to measure amount of calcium in the walls of arteries supplying the heart muscle.)
  • Blood tests to look for elevations in specific proteins that point to heart injury.

The findings will provide a clearer picture of your heart health and help create an action plan to reduce the odds that you will be a cardiovascular statistic.

Your turn: Did your last bout of ”indigestion” develop into an urgent care visit, tests, and an evaluation of your risks? Let us know in the comments!

This article offered by Senior Planet and Older Adults Technology Services is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.  

Photo: Sharon McKutcheon for Unsplash

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