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Silent Symptoms of Heart Disease Over 50s Need to Know

What every senior should know about heart disease, according to experts. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Heart disease is the leading killer in the United States and according to the National Institute on Aging, seniors are at a greater risk. "People age 65 and older are much more likely than younger people to suffer a heart attack, to have a stroke, or to develop coronary heart disease (commonly called heart disease) and heart failure. Heart disease is also a major cause of disability, limiting the activity and eroding the quality of life of millions of older people." Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with Sean Marchese, MS, RN, a registered nurse at The Mesothelioma Center with a background in oncology clinical trials and over 15 years of direct patient care experience who explains the signs of heart disease seniors should know. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


How Does Heart Disease Affect Seniors

older man experiencing chest pain, heart attack

Marchese says, "As the heart ages, the risk of heart diseases, such as heart attack, stroke or coronary artery disease, becomes more common, especially in adults over 65. Sensitive heart tissue, especially the left ventricle, becomes stiffer and weaker in older adults. Exercise becomes more important as we age because it can slow the degradation of heart tissue and keep levels of oxygen-rich blood high throughout the body. Cardiothoracic training helps the heart maintain higher heart rates, keeping the arterial walls elastic and healthy."


Decreased Blood Flow to Extremities


According to Marchese, "Many seniors experience numbness and tingling in their hands and feet or may notice that their fingers and toes get colder more frequently. While familiar, these symptoms aren't typical and indicate potential damage to arteries and blood vessels. Atherosclerosis is the build-up of plaque inside arterial walls that causes stiffening and narrowing. As blood vessels narrow, distant tissues in the hands and feet don't receive as much oxygen-rich blood as they should. Older adults may shrug off these symptoms and dress more warmly, but they should also talk to their doctor about their heart health."


Tightness in the Chest


Marchese explains, "Chest pain is a well-known symptom of heart disease, but many older adults may not pay as much attention to a feeling of tightness in the chest. Chest tightness can be brought on by physical activity or emotional stress, but it should be worrying when it is frequent or unaccompanied by exercise or stress. Angina includes chest pain and tightness, which can be a symptom of early heart disease, and shouldn't be ignored."


Leg Swelling

woman hands holding and massage her calf, suffering from calf pain

"Swelling in the legs, known as edema, is caused by excess fluid trapped in the body's tissues," states Marchese. "The primary cause of edema is a defect somewhere in the vascular system and could potentially indicate congestive heart failure. Some older adults may ignore leg swelling because it can occur if you're overweight, after a long day on your feet or had a particularly salty meal. However, it may also signify more severe issues, such as deep-vein thrombosis, a blood clot that causes pain, redness and swelling in one leg and can dislodge into the lungs. A blood clot that travels to the lungs is a pulmonary embolism that can be fatal and involves shortness of breath, cough, chest or back pain, dizziness and a rapid heart rate. If veins in the legs are weak, blood flow back to the heart is limited, and fluid builds up in distant tissue. Varicose veins are a sign of more fragile veins."



Portrait of a worried mature woman having problems with her finances

Marchese emphasizes, "Seniors may think that confusion is a typical sign of aging, but it isn't a healthy aging process and shouldn't be overlooked. Confusion could indicate a lack of blood flow to the brain caused by thickened or weakened arteries or decreased output from the heart. Sometimes, thought processes are disrupted without other symptoms of reduced oxygen, such as numbness and tingling, but confusion or disorientation can occur on its own. Other signs to look out for include vision disturbances, dizziness and memory loss which can signify a problem in the brain or a circulatory issue preventing the brain from functioning correctly." 

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather