Cardiovascular Physiology—Changes With Aging

Authors

  • Melvin D. Cheitlin MD

    1. From the University of California at San Francisco, Former Chief of Cardiology, San Francisco General Hospital, San Francisco, CA
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Melvin D. Cheitlin, MD, San Francisco General Hospital, 1001 Potrero Road, Room 5G1, San Francisco, CA 94110

Abstract

With aging there are changes in the cardiovascular system, which result in alterations in cardiovascular physiology. The changes in cardiovascular physiology must be differentiated from the effects of pathology, such as coronary artery disease, that occur with increasing frequency as age increases. The changes with age occur in everyone but not necessarily at the same rate, therefore accounting for the difference seen in some people between chronologic age and physiologic age. The changes in the cardiovascular system associated with aging are a decrease in elasticity and an increase in stiffness of the arterial system. This results in increased afterload on the left ventricle, an increase in systolic blood pressure, and left ventricular hypertrophy, as well as other changes in the left ventricular wall that prolong relaxation of the left ventricle in diastole. There is a dropout of atrial pacemaker cells resulting in a decrease in intrinsic heart rate. With fibrosis of the cardiac skeleton there is calcification at the base of the aortic valve and damage to the His bundle as it perforates the right fibrous trigone. Finally there is decreased responsiveness toβ adrenergic receptor stimulation, a decreased reactivity to baroreceptors and chemoreceptors, and an increase in circulating catecholamines. These changes set the stage for isolated systolic hypertension, diastolic dysfunction and heart failure, atrioventricular conduction defects, and aortic valve calcification, all diseases seen in the elderly.

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