These Diseases Are Way More Dangerous if You’re Over 50
Turning 50 is an exciting time, but it’s also a time to focus on paying more attention to your body. As you get older, your immune system might not be what it once was. Certain complications from illnesses become more likely — and more serious — in those over 50.
Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs. But since oxygen is required for your cells to work properly, if you can’t breathe right, the infection can cause problems throughout the rest of your body. If there is too little oxygen in your blood, the cells can be damaged, leading to malfunctions, which can cause death. This might occur in someone with a weak immune system. And since older people tend to have weaker immune systems, they’re at a heightened risk for complications from pneumonia.
Next: This common virus can wreak havoc in older people.
Nobody wants to get the flu, but in those with strong immune systems, it normally goes away within about a week. However, young children and older people are at a greater risk of serious complications with the flu due to the immune system not being its strongest. In some cases, the immune system can try so hard to fight the virus that it actually ends up destroying its own tissue, which causes a lack of oxygen in the blood and leads to death. In other cases, the flu leads to a more serious infection, such as pneumonia.
Next: This common childhood illness can be much more complex in adults.
Most adults probably caught chicken pox at a young age and are immune to it. But for someone who never got the infection, catching it at an older age can cause serious complications. Pneumonia can stem from the infection, and in some cases, meningitis or encephalitis (a brain infection) can occur. Smokers or those with lung infections are at a higher risk of severe complications, especially if they catch pneumonia.
Next: This chicken-pox-related disease can be much more painful in older people.
Shingles as a reactivation of the chicken pox virus. It occurs in as much as 20% of the adult population, but the older you are, the more complex it can be. The pain and burning is often worse in older people, and in some cases it can lead to more serious conditions such as necrotizing fasciitis (an infection that destroys soft tissue). The severe pain can make an older person feel even weaker, and it can last for years.
Next: This common illness can become more serious than you thought.
The common cold
While the common cold is extremely common (hence the name), it can cause severe complications in an older person. Since old people don’t have the immune systems they once did, a cold can lead to more complicated infections. Pneumonia, dehydration, and escalation of certain chronic illnesses such as asthma or emphysema can be caused or worsened by the common cold. In most cases, a mild cold won’t be fatal, but if symptoms start to worsen, see a doctor immediately.
Next: Studies have shown this disease can be more fatal in older people.
Certain cancers, such as breast, prostate, or colorectal cancers, become more common after age 50. And they can also be more difficult to treat. According to a study published on breastcancer.org, the mortality rate for breast cancer in women under 65 was 5.7%. But for women age 65 to 74, it was 6.3%. And in women over 75, it was 8.3%. While certain cancers may not be more dangerous right at age 50, they can be more dangerous the older you get. Research has also shown that in women with breast cancer, doctors may treat older women less aggressively than younger women, which could explain the greater mortality rate.
Next: This serious bacterial infection is even worse for older people.
Older adults and those with weakened immune systems are most vulnerable to MRSA. MRSA is an antibiotic resistant staph infection that, if left untreated, can be deadly. But since the bacteria is antibiotic resistant, it takes a strong immune system to fight it off. In an older person with an immune system that isn’t as strong as it once was, the bacteria can be difficult to control and may require weeks of hospitalization. Unfortunately, it can be fatal if it takes too much of a toll on your lungs, heart, or bloodstream.
Next: You may have gotten this as a child, but it’s worse to have it as an adult.
Strep throat is a bacterial infection caused by streptococcus bacteria. And if it’s not properly treated, it can wreak havoc on your body. Any adult who contracts the infection will likely have a longer recovery process than a child. But if the infection goes untreated, it can lead to more serious complications like scarlet fever or kidney inflammation. In an older person with a weak immune system, treating all of those infections can be rigorous and complex. Antibiotics at the first sign of strep throat, though, should negate the infection and prevent further complications.
Next: This dangerous disease can be bad at any age — but worse in older people.
bacterial meningitis can be fatal — especially in the elderly. While you may be able to recover from the disease at 50, if you’re elderly, a weakened immune system is definitely a strike against you. Pneumonia can lead to meningitis, and it can also be spread by close contact with an infected person. The disease causes membranes around the brain and spinal cord to swell up and can be difficult to treat. (The viral type of meningitis is usually the easiest to treat. But it can also occur in bacterial and fungal forms, too.) An older person with chronic nose or ear infections, diabetes, or kidney failure is more susceptible to meningitis.
Next: Many people have this, but it can get worse with age.
If asthma in older adults is not treated properly, it can cause serious complications. The risk of respiratory failure is much greater in older adults than in young adults or children. Mild asthma in an older adults can be the same severity as severe asthma in a child, since the lungs are older. If the asthma is not treated properly, it can cause serious respiratory complications in adults. Plus, people with asthma are at a higher risk of developing pneumonia.
Next: This disease is greatly affected by age.
Most would consider substance abuse a disease. And for older people, alcoholism can be much more serious than for younger people because the liver can’t function as well as it once could. Many things can cause complications with alcohol in older people; liver function is one. But also, older people tend to take more medications that may produce damaging side effects. Plus, aging lowers your alcohol tolerance, so you may think you can handle more than your body is capable of handling. Heavy drinking in older people can also worsen conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure.
Next: This isn’t a disease, but it can be much more serious with older people.
Falling isn’t a disease, but it’s a medical problem that can be much more serious in older adults. As you age, your bones begin to weaken, and a fall can lead to a broken bone more easily. Plus, diseases like osteoporosis, which is weakening of the bones, can develop, which can make a seemingly-minor fall turn disastrous. As you get older, it’s important to understand your limits and recognize you may not be able to do all the activities you once could.
Next: Not all serious illnesses are easy to recognize.
Some diseases have confusing symptoms
Many of the diseases on this list become dangerous when they go untreated and develop into something else. Symptoms of diseases can often resemble other illnesses, so even if you think it’s nothing, it’s worth it to visit your doctor. For example, you might think your sore throat is just a no-big-deal virus, but it might actually be strep. The longer you take to treat it, the worst it could get.
Next: Visit your doctor sooner, not later.
Visit your doctor at the earliest sign of illness
Visiting your doctor is important, but visiting your doctor at the first sign of an illness will give you the greatest chance of fighting it off. It may seem like the flu will go away on its own, but if you have a weakened immune system or asthma, that flu can turn into something worse. Certain drugs, such as Tamiflu, can help with flu symptoms and keep your body in good shape. But if you notice you have trouble breathing or lung discomfort during your bout with the flu, seek medical attention immediately.
Next: You can take easy steps to help keep yourself healthy.
Don’t miss out on easy ways to prevent getting sick
For certain cancers, tests can be run every year or every few years to make sure any sign of the disease is caught as early as possible. This will make treatment much more effective. And during flu season, don’t skip out on the yearly flu shot. While the shot might not protect against all strains of the virus, it may prevent you from getting sick — and could ultimately save your life.
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