Symptoms Stemming from Heart Conditions Can Increase Your Risk of Falling

The American Heart Association reports that an estimated 42.2 million Americans over age 60 have one or more types of cardiovascular disease, which are conditions affecting the heart and blood vessels. These conditions include coronary artery disease, heart attack, heart failure, abnormal heart rhythms, congenital heart disease and stroke.

Those battling heart disease fell 29 percent more than those without a chronic condition, based on our study of 145,000 Philips Lifeline users. Heart conditions have symptoms that can leave you feeling unwell and unsteady, including muscle weakness and fatigue, lightheadedness, dizziness, shortness of breath, nausea, swelling of the legs, ankles and feet, and even fainting.

And if you’ve suffered a stroke, you may be left with hemiparesis, a condition marked by weakness and sensory imbalances affecting one side of the body. Hemiparesis makes simple, everyday activities more difficult and possibly dangerous, particularly for seniors living alone.

“In the last century, many people with chronic health conditions spent long periods of time in hospitals being treated,” says Paul Adams, Senior Director of Product Management for Philips Lifeline. “That model has really changed to one of people spending much more time at home. A good example of this is someone who’s been to a hospital and been diagnosed with heart failure. Now, they’re living at home trying to manage their illness. When you have a condition like this and you start to feel unwell – whether because of medications or heart problems – your risk of falling increases.”

Mindful Medication Management

Medications commonly prescribed to treat heart conditions can have undesirable side effects that could impact fall risk.

Beta-blockers, for example, are widely prescribed for the treatment of heart failure, high blood pressure, angina, abnormal heart rhythms and heart attack, but can cause fatigue, headache, upset stomach, dizziness and shortness of breath.

ACE inhibitors, which dilate blood vessels to improve blood flow, can cause dizziness, lightheadedness or faintness upon standing, swelling of the feet and ankles, and elevated potassium levels, which can lead to confusion, numbness of the extremities, and weakness or heaviness in the legs.

Common side effects from statins (cholesterol-lowering drugs) that could impair mobility include headaches, muscle aches, tenderness or weakness, drowsiness, dizziness, and nausea or vomiting.

Take Charge of Your Risk Factors

Reducing your risk factors can go a long way toward improving your heart health. You can’t control your age or family history, but there are major risk factors you can control, such as your blood pressure and cholesterol level.

Know your numbers, and aim for the following targets, recommended by the American Heart Association:

  • Total cholesterol less than 200 mg/dL
  • HDL (good) cholesterol over 50 mg/dL (women); over 40 mg/dL (men)
  • LDL (bad) cholesterol less than 160 mg/dL (low-risk patients); less than 70 mg/dL (very high-risk patients)
  • Triglycerides less than 100 mg/dL
  • Blood pressure 120/80 mm Hg or lower
  • Fasting blood glucose less than 100 mg/dL

Talk to your doctor about steps you could take to right any numbers that are outside the preferred targets.

Tools for Independence

The power to summon help immediately if a fall should occur is critical for seniors with heart conditions, particularly for those living alone.

Philips Lifeline offers personal emergency response systems (PERS) that can provide access to help with the press of a button, or if a fall is detected can automatically signal for help, even if the button is never pressed, and that can pinpoint the location of the person who has fallen, using the latest locator technology.*

“We know exactly where you are without you having to respond,” Adams adds. “That’s a massive advancement in terms of supporting people at home. With the technology that exists today, we can make major changes in the quality of life for people with conditions like heart disease.”

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*Coverage outside the home provided where AT&T wireless network coverage is available.

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