, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp 29-49

Age-associated Cardiovascular Changes in Health: Impact on Cardiovascular Disease in Older Persons

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Abstract

In the United States, cardiovascular disease, e.g., atherosclerosis and hypertension, that lead to heart failure and stroke, is the leading cause of mortality, accounting for over 40 percent of deaths in those aged 65 years and above. Over 80 percent of all cardio-vascular deaths occur in the same age group. Thus, age, per se, is the major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Clinical manifestations and prognosis of these cardiovascular diseases likely become altered in older persons with advanced age because interactions occur between age-associated cardiovascular changes in health and specific pathophysiologic mechanisms that underlie a disease. A fundamental understanding of age-associated changes in cardiovascular structure and function ranging in scope from humans to molecules is required for effective and efficient prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease in older persons. A sustained effort over the past two decades has been applied to characterize the multiple effects of aging in health on cardiovascular structure and function in a single study population, the Baltimore Longitudinal Study on Aging. In these studies, community dwelling, volunteer participants are rigorously screened to detect both clinical and occult cardiovascular disease and characterized with respect to lifestyle, e.g. exercise habits, in an attempt to deconvolute interactions among lifestyle, cardiovascular disease and the aging process in health. This review highlights some specific changes in resting cardiovascular structure and function and cardiovascular reserve capacity that occur with advancing age in healthy humans. Observations from relevant experiments in animal models have been integrated with those in humans to provide possible mechanistic insight.