The heart is one of the most important organs in the human body. As you age, your lifestyle choices and other factors may impact how your heart function, both positively and negatively. So, how do you keep your heart healthy, and in turn, positively impact your overall health? Read on to find out!

In this guide from Curana Health, you’ll find some information about heart health in seniors, including:

  1. Main functions of the heart
  2. Common diseases of the heart and causes
  3. Heart-healthy lifestyle choices to keep your heart in the best condition possible

Your overall health is dependent on your heart health, so let’s take care of it!

What are the main functions of the heart?

The heart is a muscle that is multi-faceted. Your heart is responsible for pumping nutrient-rich blood throughout your entire body. Blood transports oxygen to other organs, like the lungs, as well as all tissues in the body. In addition to oxygenating the blood and all blood cells, the heart also pumps blood to remove toxins from your bloodstream.

Common diseases of the heart

If your heart is not functioning in optimal health, many conditions or complications may arise. If you aren’t living a heart-healthy lifestyle, you could be at a higher risk for:

  • Diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Hypertension
  • Atrial fibrillation
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Heart attack

Complications with the heart can negatively impact your overall health and quality of life. Keep reading to learn more about common heart complications in senior adults.

Causes, signs, and symptoms of heart complications


A stroke is the lack of blood flow to part of the brain or a rupture of a blood vessel in the brain. Strokes can be caused by cholesterol plaque ruptures, a lack of blood flow to the brain, a blood clot (or multiple), and weakened vessel walls (hypertension). A stroke can be life threatening, so seek emergency medical care if you experience the following symptoms:

  • Facial weakness on one side or the other
  • Weakness on one side of the body or the other
  • Paralysis
  • Sudden, blurred vision
  • Double vision
  • Loss of sight
  • Dizziness
  • Sudden and severe headache
  • Inability to speak or speak normally

Again, seek emergency medical care if you think you may be experiencing stroke symptoms. If you have had a stroke, your primary care provider will provide you with close oversight in your follow-up care and recovery.


Hypertension is the elevation of blood pressure in the arteries, either during the working or relaxed phase of your heartbeat. Hypertension is usually a chronic condition, which means that it is a condition that is long-lasting.

The causes of hypertension are mostly unknown, although many credit stress to be a leading contributor to the condition. Other risk factors include age, race, family history, obesity, lack of exercise, smoking, vaping, or tobacco use, and increased salt intake. You also may not have any symptoms of hypertension, so regular visits to your provider are critical in preventing long-term symptoms, like a stroke. If you do present with symptoms, here are some common ones to look out for:

  • Headaches
  • Vision changes
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nose bleeds

How can you treat hypertension?

To help treat or prevent hypertension, you can change up your lifestyle by eating a heart-healthy diet, exercising, reducing stress levels, and getting adequate sleep. Your doctor may also prescribe medications, so if that is the case, be sure to take them regularly per your doctor’s recommendations.

Atrial fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation, or AFib, is a quivering of the top part of the heart. This shaking, also called fibrillation, makes the heart move so quickly that it does not contribute to moving blood forward. This may be caused by a problem with the “electrical” system of the heart, causing the heartbeat to beat in excess of 150-300 beats per minute. AFib can also be caused by acute or chronic conditions, long standing heart failure, coronary artery disease (blockage of vessels in the heart), or valvular heart disease. Symptoms may be silent, but common signs of AFib are:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Physical weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Chest pain

Treatment for atrial fibrillation

Treatment for atrial fibrillation will be guided by your primary care provider and perhaps a cardiologist. Your care team will prescribe medications that can help control heart rhythm and prevent blood clots. You can also help treat AFib yourself by making heart-healthy lifestyle changes.

Congestive heart failure

Congestive heart failure (CHF) is the buildup of excessive fluid accumulation in the lungs—and possibly around the heart. This fluid buildup is caused by poor function of the heart’s ability to eject blood from the heart and lungs. CHF is usually identifiable by a group of symptoms caused by an impairment of the heart’s pumping function.

What are the signs of congestive heart failure and what causes it?

Congestive heart failure can be caused by hypertension, atrial fibrillation, high blood pressure, infection, heart attacks, and excessive alcohol consumption.  Be on the lookout for symptoms of congestive heart failure, like:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Swollen legs
  • Chest pain
  • Exhaustion

Your healthcare provider will be able to help guide your treatment of CHF. Recommendations will include lifestyle changes, weight monitoring, and prescribed medication(s).

Heart attack

A heart attack is the lack of blood flow to a main arterial vessel in the heart. This lack of blood flow is usually caused by a blood clot. Without blood, body tissues lose oxygen and die off, making a heart attack a medical emergency.

What are the signs of a heart attack and what causes it?

Heart attacks can be caused by high cholesterol, stress, smoking, obesity, and/or a family history of heart attacks. Some common symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • Chest pain (pressure, squeezing, sharp pains, chest discomfort, burning, or indigestion) Chest pain could happen at rest OR during activity
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain radiating to the neck, throat, shoulder, and/or arm

If you think you are experiencing any symptoms of a heart attack, seek emergency medical care immediately. If you have suffered a heart attack, your health care team will closely monitor your recovery and require follow-up visits to prevent further issues. You can make lifestyle improvements like eating healthy foods, maintaining a healthy weight, and quitting smoking to help decrease your personal risk for a heart attack.

How do I live a heart-healthy lifestyle?

“Lifestyle changes” can be a pretty broad phrase. But there is a lot you can do to help prevent heart issues. And don’t worry, you can always make lifestyle adjustments to help improve your overall heart health.

  • Get moving! Walking or other exercises can help you stay fit and maintain a healthy weight, which improves heart function
  • Another way to improve your health: eat a heart-healthy diet. You should choose foods that are low cholesterol (think oats, beans, nuts, and chia seeds), low fat (broccoli, lean meats, low fat milk, and eggs) and low sodium (get reduced or sodium free foods)
  • Take any prescription medications according to your physician’s recommendations
  • Attend your routine appointments with your healthcare provider
  • Monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • Get enough sleep! Sleep is important for the quality of your overall health
  • Manage your stress levels. Stress can negatively impact your heart health, so try meditation, journaling, or other relaxation techniques that work for you.

Curana Health: Helping Seniors Live Heart-Healthy

Taking care of your heart is so important. If you have any questions about heart health, be sure to connect with your primary care provider.

Curana Health works with facilities and senior living communities to provide comprehensive health care to senior residents. If your facility is looking for a collaborative care partner, contact Curana Health