Prevention of cardiovascular events in elderly people

Wafik Farah Andrawes, Caroline Bussy, Joël Belmin
Drugs & Aging 2005, 22 (10): 859-76

BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVE: Cardiovascular disease has been identified as the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in developed countries. Given the increase in life expectancy and the development of cardiovascular preventive measures, it has become increasingly important to detect and prevent cardiovascular diseases in the elderly. We reviewed the scientific literature concerning cardiovascular prevention to assess the importance of cardiovascular preventive measures in old (> or =65 years of age) individuals.

METHODS: We undertook a systematic search for references relating to prevention of cardiovascular disease in the elderly, mainly ischaemic stroke, coronary artery disease and heart failure, on the MEDLINE database 1962-2005. For cardiovascular prevention by drugs or surgery, emphasis was placed on randomised controlled trials, review articles and meta-analyses. For cardiovascular prevention by lifestyle modification, major cohort studies were also considered.

RESULTS: Stroke, coronary heart disease and heart failure were found to be the main targets for cardiovascular prevention in published studies. Antihypertensive treatment has proven its efficacy in primary prevention of fatal or nonfatal stroke in hypertensive and high-risk patients >60 years of age, particularly through treatment of systolic hypertension. Systolic blood pressure reduction is equally important in the secondary prevention of stroke. Similarly, in nonvalvular atrial fibrillation, an adjusted dose of warfarin with a target International Normalized Ratio (INR) of between 2 to 3 prevents ischaemic stroke in elderly patients with an acceptable haemorrhagic risk but is still under prescribed. Antiplatelet agents are indicated in elderly patients with nonembolic strokes. Few large-scale studies have investigated the effect of HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors (statins) on stroke prevention in old individuals. To date, the largest trials suggest a beneficial effect for stroke prevention with use of statins in high-risk elderly subjects < or =82 years of age. Carotid endarterectomy is indicated in carotid artery stenosis >70% and outcomes are even better in elderly than in younger patients. However, medical treatment is still the first-line treatment in asymptomatic elderly patients with <70% stenosis. In ischaemic heart disease, different trials in elderly individuals have shown that use of statins, antithrombotic agents, beta-adrenoceptor antagonists and ACE inhibitors plays an important role either in primary or in secondary cardiovascular prevention. Hormone replacement therapy has been used to treat climacteric symptoms and postmenopausal osteoporosis and was thought to confer a cardiovascular protection. However, controlled trials in elderly individuals changed this false belief when it was found that there was no benefit and even a harmful cardiovascular effect during the first year of treatment. Smoking cessation, regular physical activity and healthy diet are, as in younger individuals, appropriate and effective measures for preventing cardiovascular events in the elderly. Finally, antihypertensive treatment and influenza vaccination are useful for heart failure prevention in elderly individuals.

CONCLUSIONS: Cardiovascular prevention should be more widely implemented in the elderly, including individuals aged > or =75 years, and this might contribute to improved healthy status and quality of life in this growing population.

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