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Fact Sheet Cardiovascular Disease

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for those in the 65+ age group, accounting for approximately 22% of all deaths among this aging population within the United States.[1]

Coronary heart disease is also the leading cause of premature, permanent disability in the U.S. labor force.[2]

What does the term heart disease encompass?
Heart disease is a type of cardiovascular disease.  In addition to heart disease, the term cardiovascular disease comprises a variety of heart conditions, including high blood pressure and stroke. 

Coronary heart disease (CHD) is caused by a narrowing of the coronary arteries, which results in a decreased supply of blood and oxygen to the heart.   CHD includes myocardial infarction, commonly referred to as a heart attack, and angina pectoris, or chest pain.  A heart attack is caused by the sudden blockage of a coronary artery, usually by a blood clot, and chest pain results when the heart muscle does not receive enough blood.

Heart rhythm disorder is another type of heart disease which includes rapid heart, heart murmurs, and other unspecified disorders.

Congestive heart failure (CHF) is often the end-stage of heart disease.[3]

Which elderly are likely to have heart disease?
Aging is associated with changes in the mechanical and structural properties of the vascular wall, leading to the loss of arterial elasticity and reduced arterial compliance and thus may subsequently lead to coronary artery disease.[4]

Elderly have a higher rate of heart disease than any other group, but among older adults, it strikes men more often than women.

Among those with heart disease, the proportion of seniors with low income and less education is higher than those in the general population.  These characteristics are very relevant to the underserved elderly that seek care from community health centers.

Who primarily cares for elders with heart disease outside the hospital or community health center?
Spouses, children, and grandchildren provide approximately 65% of the help that is needed to perform instrumental activities of daily living, or IADLs.

What is the public health strategy for preventing heart disease among those 65+?
Heart disease is actually largely preventable via a healthy lifestyle, which can reduce the risk of heart disease by as much as 80 percent.  People who are not overweight, do not smoke, consume about one alcoholic drink a day, exercise vigorously for 30 minutes a day or more, and eat a low-fat, high-fiber diet have the lowest risk for heart disease.5

[2],3,5 National Academy on Aging Society. Challenges for the 21st Century: Chronic and Disabling Conditions: Heart Disease.No. 3 January 2000.

4 Jani B, C Rajkumar. “Ageing and vascular ageing”. Postgrad Med J. 2006; 82:357-362