Some changes occur to blood vessels and the heart with age. Some of these changes are treatable but can lead to heart problems if not treated on time.
The heart has two sides; the right side pumps deoxygenated blood to the lungs to receive oxygen, while the left side pumps oxygenated blood to the rest of the body. These make the heart a very important organ in the body. With age, some of the arteries, veins and capillaries may develop fat deposits and fibrous tissue. There could also be a slight increase in the size of the heart.
The heart muscles degenerate slightly with age. The valves in the heart that control the direction of blood flow stiffen and become thick. A heart murmur caused by the stiffening of vales can also occur.
Baroreceptors are receptors which monitor blood pressure and make changes to ensure a constant blood pressure is maintained. With aging, baroreceptors become less sensitive and it may lead to orthostatic hypotension. This is a condition where blood pressure falls when a person is standing, seating or lying. It causes dizziness, nausea and there is less blood flow to the brain. If capillary walls thicken, they can cause a slower rate of exchange of wastes and nutrients.
The aorta (the main artery from the heart) becomes stiffer, thicker and less flexible with age. This probably is related to the connective tissue of the blood vessel wall. It leads to high blood pressure and the thickening of the heart muscle.
The blood itself also changes with age. Normal aging can cause a reduction in total body water. Due to this, there is less fluid in the bloodstream and volume decreases. The speed to which red blood cells are produced is also reduced. It creates a slower response to anemia and blood loss. Most of the white blood cells also stay in the same level thus reducing the ability to fight infections.
The heart pumps enough blood to supply all the parts of the body but an older heart may not be able to do this and makes the heart to work harder. Some activities that may also make the heart to work harder include illness, infection, stress, medication and physical exhaustion.
Some problems related to heart disease include: high blood pressure, anemia, arteriosclerosis, congestive heart failure and coronary heart disease. Any chest pains or shortness of breath should be reported to the doctor the soonest possible.
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