Objective: To review the differences in presentation and clinical manifestation of heart failure in older and younger patients and to determine if these differences influence the ability to diagnose the disorder clinically. Based on this information, an approach to diagnosing heart failure in older patients is provided.
Data source: Scientific reports regarding heart failure in both the general population and the geriatric population were identified from repeated searches of MEDLINE data base and citations from appropriate articles.
Data extraction and synthesis: Relevant data were obtained from articles, with special importance placed on studies designed to examine older patients exclusively or as a subgroup in a larger study. Review of data pertaining to clinical characteristics and presentation of heart failure was performed, with emphasis on comparing the characteristics between age groups. Specific cardiac diseases that cause ventricular impairment in older patients were assessed, and the importance of systolic versus diastolic dysfunction in this age group was analyzed.
Conclusion: Clinical diagnosis of heart failure in older patients may be difficult because of the absence of typical symptoms and physical findings. When present, the symptoms and signs may be mistakenly diagnosed as caused by concomitant disorders or aging changes. In other older patients, the symptoms and signs will be obscured by the presence of aging changes or the presence of other diseases. As a result of these difficulties, the initial diagnosis of heart failure in older patients is made later in the course of the cardiac disease process; older patients will be more unstable, and secondary preventive therapies may be of less benefit than in younger patients with the disorder. Though clinically difficult, the differentiation between systolic and diastolic ventricular dysfunction is mandatory in all older patients with heart failure.