Did you know that age-related vascular changes that happen in the body can increase the risk of vascular disorders? Some studies found certain changes that affect your vascular health as you age. While preventing aging is not possible, you can manage certain factors that influence those changes. Learn how age makes vascular changes and factors that you should manage for healthy vascular health.
Aging and vascular changes
As aging is a natural process with time, it affects our overall health not only our hair and skin. In vascular health, you notice these changes including:
Your heart experience changes as early as your 20s, especially in heart rate or rhythm, heart shape, and thickening of heart valves.
In a healthy cardiovascular system, the right side of the heart pumps blood to the lungs to get oxygen and release carbon dioxide, and the left side pumps oxygen-rich blood to the body. Your arteries flow out the blood from your heart, branching out and getting smaller to supply blood into tissues until they become tiny capillaries.
These capillaries make sure your tissues get all necessary oxygen and nutrients and receive carbon dioxide from them and send it to larger veins to return blood to the heart to repeat the process of releasing carbon dioxide from the body through the lungs and pump oxygen-rich blood.
However, heart functionality decreases over time with age, and you notice these changes in your cardiovascular system such as:
- Your heart rate decreases because some pathways of the heart develop fibrous tissue and fat deposits in the natural pacemaker system that controls the heartbeat. The natural pacemaker may lose its cells because of this and slow down your heart rate.
- Your heart fills more slowly because your heart size slightly increases, especially the left ventricle in some people. It makes your heart wall thicken, so the amount of blood that the chamber can hold becomes less despite the size increase which makes it hard for the heart to fill at a normal rate.
- Heart valves may become stiff or thick over time and affect the control of blood flow direction and the heart wall. It happens because the heart contains an aging pigment lipofuscin which degenerates the heart muscle cells. This lowers your heart’s tolerance for exercise and other stressors.
These heart changes increase the risk of heart diseases such as atrial fibrillation, coronary heart disease, and heart valve diseases.
- As you get old, capillary walls start to thicken slightly which reduces the exchange rate of nutrients and wastes.
- Many older people have developed orthostatic hypotension, which is a condition that makes blood pressure fall when a person goes from lying or sitting to standing. It may cause dizziness because of less blood flow to the brain.
- When you become flexible and stiff as you get older it makes your aorta (the main artery in the body that supplies oxygenated blood to the circulatory system) thicken which causes blood pressure to rise and makes your heart work harder which also leads to the thickening of the heart muscle (hypertrophy). The other arteries also become thicker and stiffer which increases blood pressure in many older people.
- With age, blood also changes slightly. You notice that with aging you lose total body water. Water is required for the bloodstream and its loss automatically reduces your blood volume.
- Your red blood cell production is also reduced in response to stress or illness. It also leads to a slower response to blood loss and anemia.
- While most blood cells stay at normal level some white blood cells that are important for your immunity start to decrease in number and ability to fight off bacteria which make your body less resistant to infection.
Besides old age, certain things also make it hard for your heart to pump blood including:
- Emotional stress
- Physical exertion
- Certain medicines
Conditions associated with vascular changes
These changes occur with old age may increase the risk of many conditions including:
- Heart disorders such as coronary artery disease, arrhythmias, heart valve diseases, congestive heart failure, transient ischemic attacks, or strokes.
- Peripheral blood vessel disorders such as blood clots, atherosclerosis, Deep vein thrombosis, thrombophlebitis, varicose veins, aneurysms, and claudication.
While you can’t stop aging, there are several things you can do to make your heart healthy even at an older age. It includes:
- Try to prevent risk factors or maintain some control over these factors that increase your risk of heart and blood vessels (such as high blood pressure, cholesterol levels, diabetes, obesity, and smoking).
- Start eating a heart-healthy diet that contains more fiber and nutrients and low levels of saturated fat and cholesterol which also help you maintain your weight. You can ask your healthcare provider for recommendations according to your health.
- If you have high blood pressure, cholesterol problems, or diabetes, then properly follow your treatment and avoid smoking and alcohol which can make these conditions worse.
- Men or women aged 65 to 75 years who smoke should get an aneurysm test for their abdominal aorta with an ultrasound exam to see if they have any arteries or veins problems.
- Stay physically active, prevent obesity, and people with diabetes need to manage their blood sugar. It keeps your heart healthy by lowering risk factors for heart problems like high blood pressure, stress, and cholesterol levels. You can also ask your healthcare provider about the exercise plan you should follow to improve your heart and overall health.
- Monitor certain factors such as blood pressure, and cholesterol levels every year to help you keep your heart healthy. In case you have diabetes, heart disease, kidney problems, and certain other conditions then you should monitor these factors more closely to prevent complications.
Aging causes many vascular changes in the body. All changes may lead to moderate to severe vascular problems, however, with certain prevention you can manage risk factors that may cause these problems. Follow all the above-mentioned tips to keep your heart healthy and have a better life with aging.
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