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    Aging changes in vital signs

    Information

    Vital signs include body temperature, heart rate (pulse), breathing rate, and blood pressure. As you age, your vital signs may or may not change. This depends on how healthy you are. Some medical problems can cause changes in one or more vital signs.

    Checking your vital signs helps your health care provider monitor your health and any medical problems you may have.

    Body Temperature

    Normal body temperature does not changemuch with aging. But as you get older, it becomesharder for the body to control its temperature. Decrease in the amount of subcutaneous fat below the skin makes it harder to stay warm.You mayneed to wear layers of clothing to feel warm.

    Aging decreasesyour ability to sweat.You may havedifficulty telling whenyou are becoming overheated.Thisputs you athigh riskof overheating (hyperthermia or heat stroke).You canalso be at riskof dangerous drops in body temperature (hypothermia).

    Fever is an important sign of illness in older persons. Fever is often the only symptom for several days of an illness. Any fever that is not explained by a known illness should bechecked by a health care provider.

    During an infection, the body of an older person may not be able to produce a higher temperature. For this reason, it is important to check other vital signs as well as any symptoms and signs of infection.

    Heart Rate and Breathing Rate

    As you grow older, your pulse rate is about the same as before. But when exercising,it may takelonger for your pulseto increase and longerto slow down afterward.Your highestheart rate with exercise is also lower than before.

    Breathing rate usually does not change with age. But lung function decreases slightly. Healthy older persons can usually breathe without effort.

    Blood Pressure

    Older peoplemay become dizzywhen standing up too quickly. This is due to a sudden drop in blood pressure. This kind of drop in blood pressure upon standing is called orthostatic hypotension.

    Risk ofhaving high blood pressure (hypertension) increases as you get older. Other heart-related problems commonin older adults include:

    • Veryslow pulse (bradycardia) or very fast pulse (tachycardia)
    • Heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias) such as atrial fibrillation

    Effects of Medicines on Vital Signs

    Medicines that are used to treat health problems in older persons can affect the vital signs. For example, the medicinedigitalis used for heart failure and blood pressure medicines called beta blockers may cause the pulse to slow.

    Diuretics (water pills)can cause low blood pressure, especially when changing body position too quickly.

    As You Grow Older, You Will Have Other Changes, Including:

    • In organs, tissues, and cells
    • In the heart and blood vessels
    • In the lungs

    References

    Duthie ER. History and physical examination. In: Duthie EH, Katz PR, Malone ML, eds. Practice of Geriatrics. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2007:chap 1.

    Minaker KL. Common clinical sequelae of aging. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman’s Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 24.

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            Review Date: 11/10/2012

            Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.

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