Aortic Stiffness - What It Is And Why It Matters

Aug 23, 2016 by Dr. Jess Goodman | health, science, lifestyle

The Stiffness Of This Blood Vessel Is A Key To Health

Stiffness of the aorta, the largest blood vessel in your body (shown above) is well accepted in the scientific literature to indicate risk of heart disease and cognitive decline. In fact, aortic stiffness is known to predict risk of death from all causes. How can measurement of aortic stiffness be used to estimate overall health? In the following article you will learn how measurement of aortic stiffness can be used to assess internal organ function and longevity.

Anatomy Lesson

The aorta is located immediately in front of the spine. The heart pumps blood into the aorta that travels through arteries to feed the body’s organs and tissues. The aorta runs from the heart, through the chest and abdomen to the pelvis, where is divides into the iliac arteries that provide blood flow to the legs.


Aortic Stiffness and Heart Health

Increased aortic stiffness has been proven in many scientific studies to be shown as a marker of risk for heart disease. Why is this exactly? It all relates to a wave that travels down the aorta with each heart beat and then reflects back towards the heart. The Aortic Reflected Wave returns to the heart, in a healthy young person, just as the heart completes a contraction and starts to relax. The Reflected Wave maintains pressure in the aorta as the heart muscle stops pumping, in order to allow blood to flow into the coronary arteries feeding the heart muscle. When the aorta stiffens with aging, the speed with which the Reflected Wave travels along the aorta will be increased. The Reflected Wave returns to the heart earlier and the returning wave crashes into the wave of blood still being ejected from the heart. This leads to hypertension, also known as high blood pressure. Early return of the Reflected Wave also leads to low pressure in the aorta when the heart is in its relaxation phase, reducing flow to the coronary arteries.

Reflected Wave Aortic Stiffness

Reflected Wave shown in an older and younger individual

iHeart Internal Age App Screen

Reflected wave shown on iHeart Internal Age App reading

Aortic Stiffness and Brain Health

Recently, studies have been published linking increased aortic stiffness to risk of cognitive decline, resulting in Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Early return of the Reflected Wave and elevated peak pressures damage the fragile blood vessels of the brain. Small areas of the brain suffer damage and over the years this damage accumulates and leads to cognitive decline. Aortic stiffness is a measure of stiffness through the body’s core regions, termed Core Mobility. With decreased Core Mobility there is a decrease in circulation of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), the fluid flowing through the brain and spinal cord. Reduced flow of CSF has been shown to correlate well with decreased cognitive function. Reducing aortic stiffness keeps you from having a dirty mind.

Aortic Stiffness and Risk of Death from All Causes

The aorta is the body’s largest blood vessel, traveling from the heart through the chest and abdomen to the pelvis. Aortic stiffness occurs with aging and is well known to identify people at high risk of heart disease and to predict risk of death from all causes. The aorta is located immediately in front of the spinal column. Measurement of aortic stiffness is a way to estimate stiffness of the spinal column that relates to stiffness of the body’s core regions. The internal organs located in the chest, abdomen and pelvis depend on breathing and physical motion for optimal circulation. With increasing stiffness of the spine and decreased Core Mobility, internal organ circulation suffers leading to a decline in health, fatigue and illness. As the old saying states, stagnant waters soon grow foul.

How is Aortic Stiffness Measured?

Aortic stiffness is measured by measuring the speed with which pulse waves travel down the aorta. As the aorta stiffens, pulse waves will travel more quickly. Previously, the only method to measure aortic pulse wave velocity was to have a trained medical technician place pulse sensor precisely over the carotid artery in the neck and the femoral artery in the thigh. iHeart uses analysis of the fingertip pulse signal to find a wave that travels down the aorta and reflects back towards the heart. Fingertip pulse wave shape is determined by speed with which the Aortic Reflected Wave travels. In 30-seconds iHeart is able to characterize the Aortic Reflected Wave, determine aortic pulse wave velocity and use this to calculate Internal Age. Internal Age is an indication of whether a person’s aortic pulse wave velocity is equal to that of a person younger of older than their chronological age.

I developed the iHeart pulse sensor and the iHeart mobile app to allow people to monitor aortic stiffness and use this information rich health metric regularly in the comfort of their own homes. I am hoping people will recognize how powerful exercise, diet and stress management are in leading to a long healthy life.

Sphygmocor Aortic Stiffness MeasurementiHeart Aortic Stiffness Measurement
How aortic stiffness used to be measured vs. how iHeart measures aortic stiffness


Aortic stiffness has been studied in medical scientific literature for the past twenty years. Scientists have proven that aortic stiffness can be used to identify people at high risk for heart disease and dementia, as well as predict risk of death from all causes. Aortic stiffness is an indicator of overall health status and has been found to improve with attention to exercise, diet and stress management. Some tips to decrease aortic stiffnessaortic stiffness:

  • Increased movement/activity*
  • Improved diet
  • Improved sleep quality
  • Improved stress levels
  • Dietary supplementation**
  • Increased hydration levels
  • Stretching

* Always see a doctor before changing your exercise routine to make sure it is safe

** Always see a doctor before adding supplements to your diet to make sure they are safe

Author: Dr. Jess Goodman

Dr. Goodman is the President and Founder of VitalSines, Inc. Jess is a Physician in General Practice with experience in worn personal health monitoring electronics development and deployment. He is passionate about giving individuals better ways to visualize, monitor, and manage their health.