Aging and Diseases of the Heart
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The different systems that serve our body and mind undergo alterations during the aging process as an unavoidable part of life. This process starts, according to some researchers, with birth and accelerates with advancing age, leading to changes that are sometimes obvious but frequently go unnoticed for a long time. One of the most widely discussed, investigated, diagnosed, and treated processes is atherosclerosis, which leads to unmistakable damage to our cardiovascular system.
It is not in the scope of this article to delve into the question of whether this process is a natural part of aging or should be considered a disease. Whichever the case, with the aging of our population, we must deal more and more frequently with symptoms and signs of atherosclerosis and with the disease it causes, the ways we can avoid it or at least to slow the process, or, if detected at a late stage, how to treat it.
Processes That Accompany Aging
With age, the function of the heart is influenced mainly by the decrease in elasticity and the ability to respond to changes in pressure (compliance) of the arterial system. The resultant increase in the resistance to the pumping action of the heart thereby increases the work needed to drive the blood to the various organs of the body.
The atherosclerotic process results in thickening of the arterial wall, and this is relatively easily measured in our neck (carotid) arteries by the Doppler method, which involves a sonar or ultrasound image of the artery. The presence of such thickening may itself be a sign of preclinical disease and may even predict future cardiovascular disorders. The ensuing stiffening of the arteries leads to high blood pressure and, in the elderly especially, the upper (systolic) pressure increases, the lower (diastolic) pressure decreases, and the difference between the two, the …