The Heart and Aging

Mar 19, 2012 , Translated by Kristina Knazko

srdce-a-starnuti.jpg - kopie
srdce-a-starnuti.jpg - kopie
An aging heart means more or less the physiological changes that the heart undergoes during the course of our lives. Great demands are placed on the heart every minute and therefore it is not surprising that the heart can wear out. This vital organ also suffers from many negative influences which it is constantly exposed to. This results in a large number of heart diseases, the frequency of which increases with age and which kill more than half the population of developed countries. The most common illnesses associated with an aging heart include various forms of ischemic heart disease, arrhythmia, valvular disorders and more.

The Heart and Aging

The heart is a vital organ situated inside the thoracic cavity, behind the sternum. The heart produces approximately 38 million beats per year. It experiences a lot of stress during life and like the majority of other organs and tissues in the body, it receives a lot of wear and tear over the years. The heart is composed mainly of muscle cells, which are very similar to those forming the skeletal muscles, their drawback being that for the most part, they do not regenerate. Therefore if irreversible damage is done to these cells, fibrous scars form in their place, which do not have ideal properties for the heart's function.

Structure and Function of the Heart

The heart is an organ containing 4 chambers; two atria and two ventricles. Deoxygenated and denutrienated blood from the body is transported to the right atrium through the superior and inferior venae cavae. From there, the blood flows through the tricuspid valve into the right ventricle, which pumps the blood into the lungs where metabolic waste is discarded and oxygen is provided. From the lungs, the blood flows through the pulmonary vein into the left ventricle. Here the blood goes through the mitral valve (bicuspid valve) into the left ventricle, which pumps the oxygen rich blood into the whole body. The heart thus ensures blood circulation, without which life would not be possible.

Diseases of the Heart

As mentioned above, the heart is a vital organ that is no exception to various diseases. The most common heart diseases include various forms of ischemic heart diseases, heart failure, arrhythmia and valvular disorders.

Myocardial Ischemia

Like the blood vessels, the heart is also in danger of the process of arterial hardening, medically known as atherosclerosis, where dissolved fat is collected on arterial walls, primarily cholesterol. This leads to narrowing of the passage, as well as reducing elasticity and increasing the fragility of the walls. For proper heart function, atherosclerotic changes on the coronary arteries are significant as they supply the heart with oxygen and nutrients. In the case of their narrowing, chest pain can manifest as a sign of the heart cells being in danger, or even a heart attack when these cells are already dyeing. Both of these conditions are included under the term coronary heart disease (CHD). CHD is the cause of about 40% of geriatric deaths.

Heart Failure

The heart of older individuals is often not able to fulfill its function adequately, i.e. to distribute blood rich in oxygen and nutrients throughout the body, and therefore organs begin to suffer. This condition is called hear failure. This concept usually occurs with the gradually worsening of the heart's function, rather than a sudden one-time occurrence. The heart, despite intensive drug therapy, often loses its power over a number of years and depletes its reserves, until finally it fails completely. The speed that the heart depletes its reserve depends on the disposition of each individual and also on how well the doctor's instructions are followed and how much stress the heart is under.

Heart Rhythm Disorders

The heart during the aging process is prone to rhythm disorders (arrhythmia) where it contracts irregularly and usually ineffectively. Heart rhythm disorders can develop primarily without prior causes, or from myocardial infarction or heart failure. Some arrhythmias are easily treated or can be lived with for a long time with continuous treatment. An example is atrial fibrillation. Ventricular fibrillation, on the other hand, is a life-threatening condition and in the absence of immediate assistance, the patient dies.

Valvular Disorders

With increased age, the amount of fat being deposited on the walls of blood vessels increases and therefore similar problems occur more often. Some changes in the heart develop typically in older patients mainly due to mechanical wear of the tissue, such as high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol levels. Among these include mainly calcification of the valves in the heart, a process where calcium is deposited and the function of the valves is subsequently affected. This primarily causes decreased mobility of the valves or their narrowing. Calcification can also affect the muscles of the walls and lead to malfunctioning of the cardiac conduction system. This distorts the correct contractions of the heart and therefore its function. Calcification is 3 times more frequent in women than in men.

High Blood Pressure

With the increase of age, the hearts muscle is often embedded with tiny areas of connective tissue, which naturally leads to deterioration of the heart. In older individuals, high blood pressure is common but is not beneficial for the vascular system. The reason is mainly mechanical damage to the walls of the blood vessels, which can greatly increase the incidence of a heart attack or stroke. Other organs, such as the kidneys or eyes can also be significantly affected. Because treatment for today high blood pressure is quite advanced, patients can easily avoid problems if they adhere to doctor's instructions.

Preventing Diseases of the Heart

Unfortunately, with increased age, the incidence of diseases in all organs increases significantly. Over the course of an individual's life, organs gradually deteriorate and their function decreases. Each patient develops problems in various forms depending on outside factors and genetic predisposition. There are situations where a disease in not preventable, but in most cases, the risk factors can be easily reduced. It is ideal to adhere to the principles of a healthy lifestyle throughout life, though not everyone is capable of this. This is why it is important to change bad habits as soon as first problems appear, thus preventing he rapid development of a life-threatening disease.

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