The human heart will beat about 3 billion times from birth to the age of 90, and with its multitasking, as it does, there’s a lot that can go wrong.
- There can be trouble with the heart muscle itself, and with the valves that open and close, regulating the blood flow.
- There can be problems with the blood vessels (the veins and arteries) that transport the blood.
- There can be heart rhythm disturbances such as Atrial and Ventricular Fibrillation.
Rolled up together, the various complications of the heart itself and the blood vessels are called cardiovascular diseases, and there are many:
And that’s just a few of them.
They can be the result of genetic factors, lifestyle choices, birth defects, infections, or a combination.
But heart disease is not a problem just for older people, even though your risks increase with age.
We hear this a lot “I’m too young to have a heart attack.”
But the truth is that your lifestyle can affect your cardiovascular health, even from an early age.
As much as we like to be in charge of our lives, there are some risk factors for heart disease we just simply cannot control.
➡ Family history and genetics play an important role in determining the likelihood of heart disease.
➡ Poverty and inadequate medical care are another risk factor. They increase anxiety levels and make it very difficult to make healthy lifestyle choices and eat nutritious food.
No one is too young to have a heart attack.
Take a look at some research:
Teens and early 20’s:
Researchers recently published a study in the journal Circulation, after examining the cadavers of over 700 young people who died of other causes such as suicide, accidents or homicides.
➡ They found that many were already showing signs of heart disease such as blocked arteries due to high cholesterol.
The biggest risk factors for clogged arteries were found in those who had been obese and had with high levels of LDL cholesterol.
If you’re in your 20s, have your cholesterol tested. Insist on it.
High cholesterol can be treated with dietary and lifestyle changes and medication.
The younger you are, the better it is to make positive and healthy lifestyle choices that will benefit you in the long run.
In your 30’s:
Signs and symptoms of heart disease in your 30’s, pose an even greater risk for complications later in life. Symptoms may differ in men and women.
➡ According to the US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, some women who have coronary heart disease (CHD) show no signs or symptoms – this is called “Silent CHD.”
A combination of factors increase the likelihood of heart disease, and there is no single cause. The more risk factors you have, the higher your chances of developing heart disease.
In your 40’s:
According to The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa, women are better protected against a heart attack before menopause, but the risk increases after the onset of menopause.
➡ Menopause by itself does not cause heart disease, but a decline in Estrogen may be a contributing factor.
➡ Studies suggest that estrogen has a positive effect on the inner lining of the artery walls by allowing the blood vessels to accommodate adequate blood flow.
Other risk factors for heart disease include:
Smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity. But you knew that.
This doesn’t mean you can forget about a healthy lifestyle because you’re older, it’s hardly ever too late to change.
In this case, the change may lengthen your life.
People who are diagnosed with Peripheral Artery Disease and Stroke, which carry the same risk factors as heart disease, have an increased risk of developing further heart complications and illnesses.
At 65 years and older
Advanced age and family history are risk factors for heart disease. However, the statistics continue to show increased risks for the elderly, again, due to lifestyle choices.
These account for 62.5% of the top 10 leading causes of death among females 65 years and older, and 48% among males 65 years and older.
And yet, even with all that, it doesn’t have to mean you’ll develop heart disease.
Controlling risk factors such as blood pressure, cholesterol, smoking, body weight, physical activity, stress, and nutrition can lower your chances of developing heart disease throughout your life.