Turning 65 brings benefits: Medicare, Social Security (unless you’re a 70-of-bust), maybe retiring, or at least cutting back your hours. But – and there is always a “but”, right?
It’s also the age when your doctor starts taking symptoms, even with a hint of cardiac involvement very serious. He or she may have previously complained of chest tightness caused by your tendency to devour too much pizza, or a little sour reflux … but no longer.
The critical age
“Symptoms should always be taken seriously in any age group, but especially in people 65 and older,” said Guy L. Mintz, MD, Northwell Health̵
There is solid math behind that claim. The average age for a first heart attack in men is 65 years and in women 72 years. One in three people over the age of 60 has some form of cardiovascular disease.
Heart disease should be “ the first diagnosis considered when an older adult has chest pain, ” says Carolyn Kaloostian, MD, MPH, family and elderly medicine specialist at USC’s Keck Medicine, Los Angeles. That’s especially true when it’s accompanied by excessive sweating, clammy skin, nausea and other problems, she says.
Behind the number
“By age 65, people have a long history of exposure to cardiovascular risk factors,” says Mintz. 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 (stopping breathing during sleep).
Patients 65 and older are also at increased risk for abnormal heart rhythms, such as atrial fibrillation, which significantly increases the risk of stroke, Mintz says.
Certain minority groups are also known to be more affected. 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 residents, Hispanics, and African Americans are more likely to have diabetes than Caucasians.
Why so many tests?
Why is it so important to run tests? To find the cause of the symptoms, and to prevent the first symptom of a heart attack being the heart attack, says Mintz.
Among the tests your doctor can order, Mintz and Kaloostian say:
- Training stress test on the treadmill (evaluates heart rate and blood pressure while walking)
- Nuclear stress test (Evaluates heart rate, blood pressure and blood flow to the heart muscle.)
- Stress echocardiography (measures blood pressure and heart rate while exercising on a treadmill)
- Computed coronary tomography angiography (Uses CT scan to examine arteries supplying blood to the heart to see if they are narrowed.)
- Coronary artery calcium scoring (Uses CT scan to measure the amount of calcium in the walls of arteries supplying heart muscle.)
- Blood tests to look for elevations of specific proteins that indicate heart damage.
The findings will provide a clearer picture of your heart health and help create an action plan to reduce the chances of you becoming a cardiovascular statistic.
Your Turn: Has your latest bout of “indigestion” evolved into an urgent care visit, testing, and risk assessment? Let us know in the comments!
This item provided by Senior Planet and Older Adults Technology Services is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider if you have any questions about a medical condition. If you think you have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 right away.
Photo: Sharon McKutcheon for Unsplash