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

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 »

Aspirin advice: Coated vs. plain

Designed to dissolve in the intestines, enteric-coated aspirin may be less likely to cause stomach irritation. But it is just as likely to cause gastrointestinal bleeding as regular aspirin, and some people might not fully absorb enteric-coated aspirin. (Locked) More »

Cracking the coconut craze

Coconut oil has been touted as a healthy food choice, specifically for the heart. But because of its high saturated fat content, coconut oil tends to raise cholesterol levels, perhaps making it a less than ideal choice for people who want to avoid heart disease. Coconut oil tends to raise beneficial HDL cholesterol more than other fats do, possibly because it is rich in lauric acid, a fatty acid that’s processed slightly differently by the body than other saturated fats. Also, some evidence suggests that coconut oil may not raise total cholesterol as much as butter does. But there is no good evidence that consuming coconut oil can lower heart disease risk. (Locked) More »

Your blood pressure goal: A personalized balancing act

Blood pressure experts are divided about when to start drug therapy for high blood pressure and how aggressive the treatment should be. A target that is lower than the current recommended guideline of 140 mm Hg for the first number (systolic blood pressure) may further lower the risk of heart attack and stroke but cause more side effects. A target above 140 mm Hg may make sense for people ages 60 and older who are otherwise healthy. A personalized treatment approach that considers a person’s age, risk factors, and other health conditions is the best strategy. (Locked) 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 »

Is a new tool for fitness research already in your own pocket?

Real-word tracking of activity levels using a smartphone app may one day help guide people to patterns of activity that provide the most cardiovascular benefit. Challenges to this type of research include engaging a diverse range of participants and motivating them to keep using the app. Possible solutions include using a wristband fitness tracker or smartwatch in addition to a smartphone, and adding “gamification” features to the app that give feedback and rewards for greater activity and participation. (Locked) More »

The case for measuring fitness

Solid evidence links a sedentary lifestyle to higher risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and early death. However, doctors do not routinely assess their patients’ cardiorespiratory fitness to help them reduce risk. That may soon change. Experts are now calling for cardiorespiratory fitness level to be considered a vital sign and included as part of the patient’s annual check-up. (Locked) More »

What is inflammation?

Inflammation is the body’s natural reaction against injury and infection. But chronic inflammation can contribute to the buildup of fatty plaque inside arteries, setting the stage for heart disease. More »