For the past couple of weeks, I’ve talked about the two ‘silent’ killers, high blood pressure and diabetes.
They are, of course, not the only health risks of the elderly, but they do tend to be the ones that have the least symptoms and, thus, get the least attention.
Left unchecked for a long time, they can cause damage in a lot of different ways.
Then there’s the heart.
The heart is somewhat simpler in the sense that if there is a problem, it’s usually more obvious.
Shortness of breath, coughing, chest pain, or swelling in the lower limbs all indicate that there’s a circulatory problem that is likely centred in the heart.
Everyone understands that the heart is the most vital organ to life and, thus, any issues tend to get taken care of quickly, both by the patient and the medical community.
This does not mean that a heart attack won’t sneak up on you.
Indeed, a sudden artery blockage or an electrical dysfunction can change everything on a moment’s notice.
Assuming that CPR is applied within a minute or two, recovery from a heart attack can be complete and with little or no damage to other organs.
However, if the heart stops and blood is not circulating for more than three minutes, there is the chance that permanent brain damage, or permanent heart tissue damage can occur even if the heartbeat is restored.
The signs of a heart attack need to be clearly understood and acted upon immediately.
It is better to err on the side of caution than on the side of waiting to see.
Although we have a tendency to think of heart attacks as sudden and massive, most come on slowly and may have one or more of the following symptoms – chest pain that feels like intense pressure or that comes and goes, shooting pains in the neck, arms or jaw, sweating or nausea, and light-headedness.
Women are more likely to feel subtle pain than crushing chest pain, but the danger is just as great.
If you feel chest pain, and can do so, call 911 and take an aspirin immediately. This will serve to reduce any possible blockages.
Do not take an aspirin first, then decide not to call 911.
Sadly, this is a common strategy, but one with very high risks.
An aspirin does not resolve issues related to heart disease; it simply reduces, temporarily, the symptoms related specifically to blocked arteries.
Like all medical issues, a regular check-up, complete blood work, and ECG can help a family physician track a patient’s pattern of heart health and take note of changes in risk factors.
Most people in their 50s and 60s do this routinely, but as people age, they find it more difficult to make arrangements.
Some may simply ignore some of the symptoms by associating them with the normal issues of aging. They may get more complacent about monitoring their heart health. That’s never a good strategy.
Graham Hookey writes about education, parenting and eldercare. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.