Being Old and in Relatively Good Shape Does Not Equate to Being Healthy

Aging is by definition a loss of function and capacity, an accumulation of damage. A person can certainly turn out to be in much better shape than equivalently aged peers in later life, via some combination of lifestyle choices, proactive use of medical resources, and a little good fortune. But that doesn't mean that this individual is healthy in comparison to the younger version that existed decades ago. Again, aging is by definition a loss of function and capacity, a disruption of the normal healthy operation of tissues. An old person is unhealthy when compared to his or her younger self.

Today's research materials make this point in the course of presenting new data on the prevalence of heart valve disease in the older population. As is the case for recent research demonstrating that many people in their 40s and 50s exhibit the early development of atherosclerotic lesions, hidden and lacking evident symptoms, here it was found that more than a quarter of older people lacking evident symptoms do in fact have heart valve disease. This asymptomatic stage of dysfunction is a foundation for later, more severe, and more evident cardiovascular disease.

More than a quarter of 'healthy' over-60s have heart valve disease, according to new research

The sheer scale of undiagnosed heart valve disease in our ageing population has been revealed for the first time, thanks to new research. More than a quarter of healthy and symptom-free over 60s examined in the study were found to have previously undetected heart valve disease. "This study focused on understanding how widespread heart valve issues of any severity are among healthy, symptom-free adults without any known heart diseases. We examined almost 4,500 individuals aged 60 and older from three regions in the UK: Norfolk, West Midlands, and Aberdeen, using echocardiography, which is an ultrasound of the heart."

"Our findings showed that more than 28% of these adults had some form of heart valve disease, although reassuringly it was only mild in the majority of the cases. The data also indicated that age was the main factor associated with these heart valve problems, meaning that the older a person is, the higher their chance of having a significant valve issue. The main problems are caused by the valve not opening fully (valve stenosis) which restricts the flow of blood, or the valve not closing properly (valve regurgitation) which means blood can leak back in the wrong direction. These problems can put extra strain on the heart and make the heart work harder. Over time, it can increase the risk of having a heart attack, stroke, and other heart conditions."

Prevalence of asymptomatic valvular heart disease in the elderly population: a community-based echocardiographic study

With an ageing population, the presence of asymptomatic valvular heart disease (VHD) in the community remains unknown. This was a prospective cohort study conducted between 2007 and 2016 in the UK. Asymptomatic patients with no prior indication for echocardiography were invited to participate and evaluated with a health questionnaire, clinical examination, and transthoracic echocardiography. A total of 10,000 individuals were invited through their general practices. A total of 5429 volunteered to participate, of whom 4237 were eligible for inclusion. VHD was diagnosed in more than a quarter of patients (28.2%). Age is strongly associated with an increased incidence of significant VHD.

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