Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on July 08, 2021
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Heart Attack Risk Rises

As you age, your chance of heart attack goes up. The average age men have their first heart attack is 65. For women, that age is 72, but menopause -- which women tend to go through around age 50 -- lowers the amount of estrogen in your body. Estrogen helps keep arteries flexible, so your heart attack risk goes up once estrogen starts to drop.

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Weight Goes Up

By the time you reach 50, your metabolism -- the process your body uses to break down food for energy -- slows down by 30%. A slower metabolism can make it hard to maintain a healthy weight. This boosts your risk of insulin resistance, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and obesity -- all of which raise your odds of heart disease.

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Hardens Your Heart

As your arteries age, they get stiffer. Your heart muscle stiffens, too. This makes it tougher to pump blood well, especially as you exercise.

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Blood Pressure Rises

Even if you haven’t dealt with high blood pressure by your mid-to-late 50s, your risk of getting it is still 90%. High blood pressure hardens and damages the smooth inner lining of your artery walls. It stiffens blood vessels and increases the chance you’ll have a blockage.

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Heart Rhythm Changes

An irregular heartbeat -- also called atrial fibrillation -- is the leading cause of stroke in older adults. It can cause a blood clot to form in your heart. If that clot breaks away and goes to your brain, you could have a stroke.

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Poor Sleep Does Damage

As the part of your brain that controls your sleep cycle ages, you might notice a difference in when you feel tired -- and when you don’t. Aging often leads to trouble sleeping, too. Poor sleep can increase the stiffness of your arteries and harden cholesterol plaque, raising your risk of heart disease.

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Broken Heart

Broken heart syndrome is temporary chest pain or shortness of breath that usually affects women after a high-stress event like the death of a loved one, a divorce, or a traumatic health diagnosis or injury. It can feel a lot like a heart attack. Most people who get it are over 50.

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Higher Risk of Diabetes for Women

As estrogen plummets after menopause, your body doesn’t use insulin as well as it did before. This raises your chances of getting diabetes. Over time, high blood sugar can damage blood vessels and nerves that control your heart.

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Blood Vessels Narrow

Aging is one of the risk factors for atherosclerosis, or the hardening and narrowing of arteries. It happens when cholesterol, fats, and other fatty substances known as plaque build up on the inner walls of your arteries. This restricts the blood flow to your heart.

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More Sensitive to Salt

As you get older, your body doesn’t deal as well with salt intake. Too much salt can raise your blood pressure and lead to swelling.

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SOURCES:

Harvard Medical School: “Premature heart disease,” “The heart attack gender gap.”

Mayo Clinic: “Menopause.”

Healthywomen.org: “Atherosclerosis.”

Piedmont Healthcare: “Why metabolism slows as you age.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Overweight? Here’s Why Those Extra Pounds Are Hard on Your Heart.”

National Institute on Aging: “Heart Health and Aging.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Hypertension: What You Need to Know as You Age.”

Health in Aging Foundation: “Ask The Geriatric Heart Specialist: Atrial Fibrillation.”

Sleep Foundation: “Sleep Drive and Your Body Clock.”

The Hospitalist: “7 Hours of Sleep Can Reduce Heart Disease.”

Mayo Clinic: “Arteriosclerosis / atherosclerosis,” “Broken heart syndrome,” “Diabetes and menopause: A twin challenge.”

CDC: “Diabetes and Your Heart.”

University Hospitals: “Excellent Care for Coronary Artery Disease & Heart Attacks.”