It’s about the size of the palm of your hand, and it’s charged with pumping nearly 2,500 gallons of blood throughout your body per day. Your heart keeps your body running smoothly, so it can be scary when it's not functioning properly.
How the Heart Changes as We Age
According to the National Institute on Aging, the aging process can cause changes in our hearts and blood vessels. Though our resting heart rate usually doesn’t change, the heart’s ability to beat as fast as it could when we were younger while under stress or during physical activity does.
It’s important to point out, however, that many of the problems — like heart disease or hardening of the arteries — the heart experiences are due to disease processes rather than simply aging.
Heart Attacks in Older Adults
Over 1 million people have a heart attack each year in the United States. About half of heart attack sufferers die.
You may be aware of common heart attack risks like:
- Being overweight
- Having a sedentary lifestyle
- Having high blood pressure or cholesterol
- Eating an unhealthy diet
But other factors — like being a man over 45 or a woman over 55 — can also increase your risk of heart attack.
Common Causes & Symptoms of Heart Attacks
The majority of heart attacks are caused by a blockage to one or more of the coronary arteries. These arteries bring blood and oxygen to the heart, and most of the time blockages are caused by a blood clot.
You’ve likely seen the scenes in movies or on TV of someone clutching his chest and falling to the ground, and although some heart attacks can be dramatic, most aren’t like their fictional portrayals.
Most people experience symptoms that aren’t as obvious. In fact, many people who have a heart attack suffer permanent heart damagebecause they don’t get help quickly enough. Not only that, heart attack symptoms can vary from person to person, and some people even have no symptoms.
Here are the most common heart attack symptoms to watch for:
- Chest pain or discomfort that doesn’t go away or occurs more often during an activity or rest (the pain can feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain, or feel like indigestion or heartburn)
- Discomfort in areas of your upper body like the arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea or vomiting
- Feeling lightheaded, dizzy or unusually tired for no reason
- Lack of energy or fatigue
If you experience any of the above symptoms, call 911. Do not drive yourself to the hospital.
Knowing the risks and symptoms of a heart attack can help you get the care you need quickly. Getting prompt care as well as having regular checkups and making healthy lifestyle choices can help protect the health of your heart.