There’s a lot to celebrate when you hit the big five-oh. Discounts start to kick in, investments begin to mature and — how does the saying go? — with age comes wisdom. But for all the money saved and knowledge earned, there’s a small price to pay: It’s time to really tune in to your health.
“What we see is that some chronic health conditions are frequently diagnosed starting at age 50,” says Renuka Tipirneni, M.D., an internist and assistant professor in the Division of General Medicine at the University of Michigan.
The good news is that many of the conditions that creep up in midlife can be managed. And if they’re caught early and treated promptly, you can “prevent complications that are more serious,” Tipirneni explains.
Here's what you need to look out for after you turn 50.
1. High blood pressure
A common condition health care providers see among patients in their 50s is high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
One reason high blood pressure is so prevalent in this age group is that the vascular system changes as we age. Arteries become less elastic, and the pressure inside them builds. The extra weight and stress that often accompany middle age can also contribute to creeping numbers.
The good news: High blood pressure is manageable with medication and lifestyle modifications, including diet and exercise. Because the condition often lacks symptoms, it’s easy to miss. In fact, nearly 1 in 3 adults with high blood pressure don’t know they have it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That’s why Tipirneni recommends getting your blood pressure checked “more regularly” — at least every year — once you hit 50.
If you have a blood pressure cuff (they cost about $30), you can check it yourself. And pharmacies and health fairs often offer blood pressure checks for free, Tipirneni points out. Of course, your health care provider can take it for you.
Warning Signs of Heart Disease
High blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes are three leading risk factors for heart disease, which is the number one cause of death in the U.S.
Do you know the warning signs?
“Most people worry about chest pain,” says Renuka Tipirneni, M.D., an internist and assistant professor in the Division of General Medicine at the University of Michigan. Pain in the chest is an indication that something could be wrong, but there are other symptoms, including:
- Unexplained back pain that happens when you exercise
- Pain in the neck, jaw or throat
- Pain in the upper abdomen
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea, vomiting or fatigue
- Heart palpitations
If you experience any of these symptoms and are at risk for heart disease, it’s important to get “evaluated emergently,” Tipirneni says.
Source: Renuka Tipirneni, M.D./CDC
What you want to see is a reading at or below 120/80, which is considered normal by the American Heart Association. Anything over 130 on that top number (the systolic reading) is considered high and warrants a conversation with your doctor about possible treatments.
2. High cholesterol
Another contributor to heart disease is high cholesterol, which can build up on the inside of the blood vessels over time and form plaque that slows or blocks blood flow. This plaque can also break loose and cause a blood clot — even a heart attack or stroke.
As with high blood pressure, your risk for developing high cholesterol increases with age. It also comes with no symptoms or warning signs, which is why it’s important to check your numbers regularly throughout midlife with a routine blood test that can be done at the doctor’s office. Diet and exercise can help lower cholesterol, as can medication.