The month of February is traditionally recognized as American Heart Month.
Because of the ongoing pandemic, this recognition has been overshadowed by COVID-19 statistics about new coronavirus strains, hospitalizations and deaths. For older adults, it is very relevant because the presence of cardiovascular disease with this virus is strongly associated with very poor clinical outcomes and increased mortality.
This article will discuss the prevalence of heart diseases and strokes in adults and ways to support your heart health by following proven preventative measures.
Frequency of cardiovascular diseases in older adults
Before the pandemic, the top five reasons for deaths in 2019 were heart disease, cancers, accidents (unintentional injuries), chronic lower respiratory diseases and stroke (cerebrovascular diseases). (Source: Mortality in the United States, 2019, data table for figure 2).
The term “cardiovascular” is not a very descriptive term. More descriptive terminology of common heart conditions includes muscle diseases (cardiomyopathy), irregular heartbeats (arrhythmia) and blood vessel disease of heart vessels and peripheral circulation (e.g., coronary artery disease, hypertension, coronary artery blockage and strokes).
- Approximately 121.5 million U.S. adults have some form of cardiovascular condition (2019, American Heart Association).
- One out of every four deaths in the U.S. is due to cardiovascular diseases (2019)
- By 2035, American Heart Association projects 130 million Americans will have some type of heart disease.
- High blood pressure is one of the most common cardiac conditions (108 million diagnosed in 2017).
- In 2019, 18.2 million people were diagnosed with coronary artery diseases and 805,000 with heart attacks each year. Someone in the U.S. has a stroke every 40 seconds, accounting for one out of every 19 deaths (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
- The cost to private insurance, Medicare, Medicare and out-of-pocket expenses in 2014-15 for treating cardiovascular disease and stroke exceeded $351 billion for the U.S. alone, or one out of six health care dollars expended.
There are many risk factors confronting older adults that either cause or exacerbate underlying heart conditions. Age, gender, race, ethnicity and family history are factors we have no control over, but there are many lifestyle changes that can either exacerbate or benefit heart conditions.
How to prevent and influence heart conditions
- Don’t smoke. Smoking elevates your blood pressure and increases your chances of heart attack or stroke, in addition to being a cancer risk.
- Stay at a healthy weight. Consult with your doctor about what a healthy weight is for you and attempt to keep it there. Obesity complicates many heart and lung issues, along with cholesterol and triglyceride elevation.
- Keep your cholesterol and triglycerides at normal levels. Elevation of either can cause blocked arteries in your heart and peripheral circulation.
- Blood pressure control is essential and is the major risk factor for heart disease.
- Eat a healthy diet and limit intake of saturated fats, excessive sodium or added sugars.
- Limit alcohol intake. Calories from alcoholic beverages cause weight gain and elevates blood pressure.
- Manage blood sugar and hemoglobin A-1c levels. Elevation of blood sugar is associated with doubling the risk of heart disease and damage to blood vessels and nerves.
- Remain compliant with your doctor’s instructions on how to take any medication you might be on, especially meds treating heart conditions.
- Manage stress. Extremely stressful life conditions are associated as a “trigger” for heart attacks with dangerous blood pressure elevations. When under chronic stress in our lives, we are all guilty of overeating or engaging in excess alcohol intake.
- Get enough sleep and treat sleep apnea if present. Address sleep problems with your physician.
- Get regular exercise. Talk with your physician about what physical activities you enjoy and make sure you are exercising at a level that will not cause physical injuries.
In closing, it is important for all adults, regardless of age, to work closely with their physicians to screen for underlying heart disease and avoid exposure to COVID-19. We are all being challenged to find our COVID-19 vaccinations, follow distancing protocols, wear appropriate masks when going out in public and clean our hands frequently in order to avoid coronavirus infection because of the serious cardiac complications that can develop. Hopefully, by this time next year, these risks will have decreased.
Read more You and Your Health.