Heart attacks in elderly people
Heart attacks are certainly common amongst the elderly. A heart attack happens when there is a sudden complete blockage of an artery that supplies blood to a section of the heart.
As a result, some of the heart muscle starts to die. Most of the time, older adults are dependent on family members or caregivers to understand the signs and to get medical aid.
According to the 2016 Global Burden of Disease Report, heart disease is the leading cause of death in India (17.8 percent of all the deaths), with figures rising by 53 percent as compared to 2005.
Over the last 60 years, Congenital Heart Disease prevalence has increased from 1 percent to 9-10 percent in urban areas and has gone from 1 percent to 4-6 percent in rural areas.
Risk factors for heart attacks in elderly:
– A family history of heart attacks or cardiac problems
– High blood pressure
– High cholesterol
– Smoking (even second-hand smoke exposure)
– Alcohol consumption
– Being overweight or obese
– Inactive or sedentary lifestyle
Symptoms of heart attack in elderly:
Experiencing any of these may not necessarily indicate that the person has a heart attack. It is better to leave the clinical decision to the doctor.
While it is known that the most common symptom is sudden onset chest pain, many of the elderly do not present this characteristic complaint.
Commonly reported symptoms include:
– Uncomfortable chest pain, heavy pressure or squeezing or sensation of fullness in the chest, with pain radiating to neck, jaw, and arm, indigestion or heartburn, experiencing shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, sudden sweating or dizziness.
Other symptoms are fatigue and a noticeable decrease in energy, and in some cases, acute change in behaviour (delirium).
Steps to reduce heart attacks in elderly by Dr Sriniwas Thakur, Consultant Geriatrician:
– It is important for people of all ages to eat a healthy diet. If suffering from high blood pressure, they should have a diet low in salts and pickles, consume less oily and fried foods.
– If diabetic, diet should be low in sugars and consume foods with low glycemic index. It is always a good option to consume fresh fruits and green leafy vegetables and avoid all sorts of junk food.
– Senior citizens who have been sedentary should start exercising slowly, by taking short walks every day
– One of the most preventable causes of heart attacks is smoking. It is always better to quit smoking at any age. Limit the amount of alcohol you drink
– Keep your blood pressure, diabetes, and cholesterol in good control
-Try and lead a stress-free life; visit your doctor on a regular basis
Steps for caregivers if an elderly has a heart attack outside hospital include having that person sit down, rest and try to keep calm, followed by loosening any tight clothing.
– Keep constantly reassuring them that medical aid is on its way. If the person takes any medication for chest pain or a heart condition, help them take it.
– Call for help and immediately, take the person to the hospital.
What things to avoid:
– Do not leave the person alone, except to call for help.
– Do not give anything by mouth, unless a heart medication is prescribed
– Do not wait to see if the symptoms go away. Take the person immediately to the hospital
Once a person develops a heart attack, the medical intervention is to get the blood flowing back to the heart. Just remember, each and every minute matters.
The sooner the treatment is received, once the symptoms of heart attack are noticed, the less damage will be caused to the heart. In most cases, an elderly individual will live through a heart attack, if they get the emergency help at the earliest. Delay of even a few minutes can be fatal.
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