Heart Disease

The heart beats about 2.5 billion times over the average lifetime, pushing millions of gallons of blood to every part of the body. This steady flow carries with it oxygen, fuel, hormones, other compounds, and a host of essential cells. It also whisks away the waste products of metabolism. When the heart stops, essential functions fail, some almost instantly.

Given the heart's never-ending workload, it's a wonder it performs so well, for so long, for so many people. But it can also fail, brought down by a poor diet and lack of exercise, smoking, infection, unlucky genes, and more.

A key problem is atherosclerosis. This is the accumulation of pockets of cholesterol-rich gunk inside the arteries. These pockets, called plaque, can limit blood flow through arteries that nourish the heart — the coronary arteries — and other arteries throughout the body. When a plaque breaks apart, it can cause a heart attack or stroke.

Although many people develop some form of cardiovascular disease (a catch-all term for all of the diseases affecting the heart and blood vessels) as they get older, it isn't inevitable. A healthy lifestyle, especially when started at a young age, goes a long way to preventing cardiovascular disease. Lifestyle changes and medications can nip heart-harming trends, like high blood pressure or high cholesterol, in the bud before they cause damage. And a variety of medications, operations, and devices can help support the heart if damage occurs.

Heart diseases include:

  • coronary artery disease: the accumulation of cholesterol-filled plaque in the arteries that nourish heart muscle
  • heart attack (myocardial infarction): the sudden stopping of blood flow to part of the heart muscle
  • heart failure: the inability of the heart to pump as forcefully or efficiently as needed to supply the body with oxygenated blood
  • heart rhythm disorders: heartbeats that are too fast, too slow, or irregular
  • heart valve disorders: problems with the valves that control blood flow from one part of the heart to another part of the heart or to the body.
  • sudden cardiac arrest: the sudden cessation of the heartbeat
  • cardiomyopathy: a disease of the heart muscle that causes the heart to become abnormally enlarged, thickened, and/or stiffened
  • pericarditis: inflammation of the pericardium, a thin sac that surrounds the heart
  • myocarditis: inflammation of the myocardium, the middle layer of the heart wall
  • congenital heart disease: heart diseases or abnormalities in the heart's structure that occur before birth

Heart Disease Articles

Breakfast and beyond: The case for a healthy morning meal

Skipping breakfast puts a strain on your body, which may increase the risk of insulin resistance, high blood pressure, and cholesterol problems. Breakfast may also help people maintain a healthy body weight. A healthy breakfast should include lean protein, whole-grain carbohydrates, healthy fat, and fresh fruit. (Locked) More »

Does your heart need a valve job?

In aortic stenosis, calcium deposits build up on the aortic valve, causing it to stiffen and narrow. Symptoms include shortness of breath during activity, feeling lightheaded or faint, and sometimes chest pain. About three to four of every 100 people ages 75 and older have severe aortic stenosis. Replacing the valve, which is usually done with minimally invasive surgery, is the only treatment option. (Locked) More »

Fluid around the heart

A buildup of fluid inside the sac surrounding the heart is called a pericardial effusion. It can result from an infection, a heart attack, or many other conditions. Treatment depends on the cause and the severity of the symptoms. (Locked) More »

Overactive thyroid and afib

An overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism) can cause a fast heartbeat, trouble sleeping, and weight loss. In some people, the condition may trigger the heart rhythm disorder known as atrial fibrillation. (Locked) More »

The value of prevention

People who exercise, eat right, and follow other heart-healthy habits have much lower medical costs than people who don’t adhere to key heart disease prevention strategies, known as Life’s Simple 7. Created by the American Heart Association, the list also includes stopping smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, and controlling blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels. The savings arise mainly from avoiding hospital charges for heart surgeries and other procedures. More »

A win for weekend warriors?

People who meet their weekly exercise recommendations in just one or two days a week—so-called weekend warriors—may be less likely to die from cardiovascular disease than people who are inactive. National physical activity guidelines advise adults to do at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity, or 75 minutes a week at vigorous intensity, or an equivalent combination of the two. People may find twice-weekly bouts of exercise easier to schedule. But daily exercise can prevent joint stiffness and may be less likely to lead to an injury. (Locked) More »

Should I try a new blood thinner?

Newer blood thinners are more convenient than warfarin, but they also have some disadvantages, such as cost, duration of effectiveness, and lack of an antidote to stop an episode of major bleeding. (Locked) More »

Uncovering the link between emotional stress and heart disease

Heightened activity in the amygdala—a brain region involved in processing fear and other intense emotions—may trigger a person’s bone marrow to generate white blood cells. This can lead to inflammation in the arteries, which encourages the buildup of fatty plaque and raises the risk of heart attack. In people with post-traumatic stress disorder, higher perceived levels of stress have been linked to greater amygdala activity and artery inflammation. More »

Are you on the road to a diabetes diagnosis?

Having a higher-than-normal blood sugar level (100 and 125 mg/dL) is known as prediabetes, a condition that puts people at risk for diabetes and heart disease. Most people with prediabetes are overweight, and excess fat in the abdominal area is especially risky. Belly fat makes hormones and other substances that trigger chronic inflammation, which contributes to insulin resistance and sets the stage for prediabetes. Weight loss and exercise can help reverse the problem. (Locked) More »