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Cardiovascular Diseases in Later Life

Cardiovascular diseases – diseases and disorders affecting the heart or blood vessels --  are the leading  cause of death among older  Americans. They can lead to heart rhythm problems, heart attacks, heart failure,  and strokes.

While better treatment for cardiovascular diseases has lowered the risks of dying of  these conditions, older adults and their caregivers need to be aware of what contributes to these disorders and how to prevent them,  says James Pacala, MD, a geriatrician and member of the American Geriatrics Society.

To help prevent and manage cardiovascular diseases, Dr. Pacala urges older adults to:

Stop smoking If you smoke, quit -- it’s never too late to reap the benefits.  If someone in your household smokes, encourage him or her to quit.

Choose the right foods Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and whole grains. For protein, choose  lean meats; beans and other legumes; heart-healthy fish such as tuna, salmon and sardines;  and non- or low-fat dairy products. Instead of butter and other fats that are high in dietary cholesterol, saturated fats and trans fats, choose healthier alternatives  such as olive and canola oils. Go lightly with the salt, which can contribute to high blood pressure.

Exercise Regular exercise is essential to good heart health. Talk to your healthcare provider before you start exercising or step up your exercise regimen significantly. Get his or her advice on what exercises are a good fit, and how long and how often to exercise.

Maintain a healthy weight Eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly will help you lose excess pounds and maintain a new, healthier weight. This in turn can help lower your blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels.

See your healthcare provider regularly You should have your blood pressure, and cholesterol levels checked, and be screened for diabetes, which contributes to heart disease and other health problems.  Depending on your age and whether you’ve ever smoked, your provider may also check for signs  of aortic aneurysm, an enlarged or swollen blood vessel in your abdomen that can be dangerous if left untreated.

Take your medications as directed  If your healthcare provider has prescribed medications to lower your blood cholesterol levels or blood pressure, take these as prescribed. If your medications seem to be causing side effects,  tell your healthcare provider. He or she may prescribe a different dose or an alternative medication.

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