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J Appl Physiol (1985). 2003 Dec;95(6):2591-7.

Invited review: aging and the cardiovascular system.

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Dipartimento di Medicina, Universit√° di Milano-Bicocca, Milano, Italy.


Aging is associated with complex and diversified changes of cardiovascular structure and function. The heart becomes slightly hypertrophic and hyporesponsive to sympathetic (but not parasympathetic) stimuli, so that the exercise-induced increases in heart rate and myocardial contractility are blunted in older hearts. The aorta and major elastic arteries become elongated and stiffer, with increased pulse wave velocity, evidence of endothelial dysfunction, and biochemical patterns resembling early atherosclerosis. The arterial baroreflex is sizably altered in aging, but different components are differentially affected: there is a definite impairment of arterial baroreceptor control of the heart but much better preserved baroreceptor control of peripheral vascular resistance. Alterations at the afferent, central neural, efferent, and effector organ portions of the reflex arch have been claimed to account for age-related baroreflex changes, but no conclusive evidence is available on this mechanistic aspect. Reflexes arising from cardiopulmonary vagal afferents are also blunted in aged individuals. The cardiovascular and reflex changes brought about by aging may have significant implications for circulatory homeostasis in health and disease.

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