Heart Health

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 Health Articles

Bringing awareness to aneurysms in the chest

A thoracic aneurysm is a weak spot in the wall of the heart’s largest blood vessel (the aorta) as it passes through the chest. Most are found by accident during a test for another reason. Certain people should be screened for this rare but potentially deadly condition. These include people with a bicuspid aortic valve and certain genetic conditions; those whose close relatives had a thoracic aneurysm; and those who had surgery to replace an aortic valve before age 70.  (Locked) More »

Does aspirin stop a heart attack?

Taking a regular-strength aspirin can stop an impending heart attack. The aspirin should not be enteric-coated, and the dose should be 325 milligrams.  (Locked) More »

Does it matter how you lower your cholesterol?

Certain cholesterol-lowering medications—namely, ezetimibe (Zetia) and drugs known as bile acid binders—also appear to be effective at lowering cholesterol and reducing the risk of serious cardiovascular events.  More »

How winter’s chill can challenge your heart

Cold temperatures cause the blood vessels to constrict and the heart to work harder to pump blood against added resistance. This can bring on symptoms such as chest pain or shortness of breath, particularly in people who already have heart disease. Precautions such as dressing warmly and avoiding overexertion in cold weather make good sense for your heart (and overall) health. (Locked) More »

Say cheese?

Even though dairy products such as cheese, yogurt, and milk contain saturated fat, they don’t seem to pose a risk to heart health. Other nutrients found in dairy products, such as calcium and potassium, which may help lower blood pressure, may explain the observation. But some nutrition experts recommend choosing low-fat milk and yogurt and not eating too much cheese. Replacing dairy fat with plant-based unsaturated fat appears to be a healthier choice.  (Locked) More »

What is a lacunar stroke?

Lacunar strokes, which account for about one-fifth of all strokes, occur in small arteries deep within the brain. Although these strokes may not cause symptoms, those that do may cause weakness in the face, arm, or leg on one side of the body.  (Locked) More »

Working out while angry? Just don’t do it

Anger or emotional upset may double the risk of having a heart attack. Heavy physical exertion appears to have the same effect. And people who do intense exercise while they’re upset or mad may face three times the risk of heart attack.  More »