Although heart disease is not the most common disease amongst older adults, it is the leading cause of death in developed countries. With age the artery walls thicken and are less elastic, so damage is more likely to occur, which in turn increases the build up of plaques on the inside of the arteries; cholesterol contributes to this build up. These plaques narrow the blood vessels and if they occur in the coronary arties that supply blood to the heart, the heart receives less blood and consequently less oxygen; the result is chest pain, known as angina. If these arteries are completely narrowed or blocked due to the formation of a blood clot, this is when a heart attack occurs, which is accompanied by severe chest pain and often breathlessness, sweating, nausea and feeling light-headed.
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The chance of developing heart disease is more likely if other members of your family have been affected or if you have diabetes. However, modifiable risk factors include blood pressure, cholesterol level, your weight, whether you smoke and take regular exercise. Cholesterol can be lowered through reducing saturated fat in the diet – the type of fat found in produce typically derived from animals – though cholesterol-lowering medication may also be required.
Apart from making lifestyle changes to reduce risk factors for heart disease, various medications are also available. It might be decided that a procedure is required to reduce the narrowing of the coronary arteries – known as an angioplasty – or a bypass graft may be used to improve blood flow to the heart.