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

Myocarditis

Myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart muscle that decreases the ability of the heart to pump blood normally. It can be caused by: An infection —Many infections have been associated with myocarditis. Some of the more likely germs include: Viral infections — A common cause of myocarditis. Many different viruses can cause myocarditis. Examples include adenovirus, coxsackievirus, Epstein-Barr virus, HIV, varicella (chickenpox) and human herpes virus 6. Often the person has no preceding symptoms of a cold, cough, nasal congestion or rash and only becomes aware of the infection when heart failure occurs. Bacteria — Rarely, myocarditis is a complication of endocarditis, an infection of the heart valves and the lining inside the heart's chambers caused by bacteria. In some people with diphtheria, a toxin (poison) produced by C. diphtheriae bacteria causes a form of myocarditis that leads to a flabby, stretched-out heart muscle. Because the flabby, enlarged heart cannot pump blood efficiently, severe heart failure may develop within the first week of illness. Chagas' disease — This infection, caused by the protozoan Trypanosoma cruzi, is transmitted by an insect bite. In the United States, myocarditis caused by Chagas' disease is most common among travelers to or immigrants from Central and South America. In up to one-third of people with Chagas' disease, a form of chronic (long-term) myocarditis develops many years after the first infection. This chronic myocarditis leads to significant destruction of heart muscle with progressive heart failure. Lyme myocarditis — Lyme disease, an infection caused by the tick-borne bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, can cause myocarditis or other heart problems. (Locked) More »

Heart Murmur

A heart murmur is a sound made by turbulent blood flow within the heart. Your doctor hears this sound with a stethoscope. A murmur can occur in a normal heart. Or it may indicate some problem within the heart. Most often, the turbulence is normal. And the sound is called a benign flow murmur. It happens when blood flows faster through the heart, for example in a person who is anxious, has just finished exercising, has a high fever or has severe anemia. About 10% of adults and 30% of children (most between the ages of 3 and 7) have a harmless murmur produced by a normal heart. This type of murmur is also called an innocent murmur. A heart murmur may indicate a structural abnormality of a heart valve or heart chamber, or it may be due to an abnormal connection between two parts of the heart. (Locked) More »

Angina

Angina is discomfort or pain in the chest that happens when not enough oxygen-rich blood reaches the muscle cells of the heart. The most common cause of angina is coronary artery disease. Coronary artery disease is usually caused by atherosclerosis. In this condition, fatty deposits (called plaque) build up along the inside walls of blood vessels that feed oxygen and nutrients to the pumping heart. (Locked) More »

Mitral Valve Prolapse

Mitral valve prolapse is a malfunction of the heart's mitral valve, the physical doorway between the heart's left atrium and left ventricle. Normally, the mitral valve closes when the ventricle's muscles contract, preventing blood from flowing back into the left atrium when the heart pumps blood to the rest of the body. In mitral valve prolapse, however, a slight deformity of the mitral valve prevents the valve from closing normally. This appears as an abnormal floppiness, or prolapse, of the valve. The result is that small amounts of blood leak back into the left atrium, with very little effect on the heart's overall ability to pump blood. In some people, the leak worsens to create a significant backflow of blood into the left atrium. This is called mitral regurgitation. People with severe mitral regurgitation can develop symptoms such as shortness of breath, fatigue and leg swelling. Rarely, heart surgery is needed to repair the damaged valve. In most people with mitral valve prolapse, the cause is unknown. However, in a small number of patients, mitral valve prolapse may be related to another medical condition, such as an inherited abnormality in the way the body produces collagen (connective tissue) or rheumatic heart disease (a rare complication of strep throat). Health experts estimate that mitral valve prolapse currently affects up to 5% of people in the United States. For unknown reasons, the condition is most common in women between 14 and 30. The condition sometimes affects several members of the same family,and there is some evidence that the condition can be inherited. (Locked) More »

Thrombocytopenia

Thrombocytopenia is an abnormally low level of platelets in the blood. Platelets are made by the bone marrow. They help your blood to clot. People with thrombocytopenia can have excessive bleeding. This condition can occur in varying degrees. The risk of bleeding increases as the platelet count decreases. Thrombocytopenia can occur alone. Or, it can develop as a complication of another disease, such as cancer or a viral infection. In some cases, it is a chronic (long-lasting) condition that persists for years. In other cases, it develops suddenly and dramatically. In general, thrombocytopenia develops for one or more of the following reasons: The body's bone marrow fails to produce enough platelets.  The bone marrow produces enough platelets, but the body destroys them.  Too many platelets remain in the spleen.  (Locked) More »

Thrombotic Stroke

In a thrombotic stroke, a blood clot (thrombus) forms inside one of the brain's arteries. The clot blocks blood flow to a part of the brain. This causes brain cells in that area to stop functioning and die quickly. The blood clot that triggers a thrombotic stroke usually forms inside an artery that already has been narrowed by atherosclerosis. This is a condition in which fatty deposits (plaques) build up inside blood vessels. (Locked) More »

Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation is a heart rhythm disorder that causes a rapid and irregular heartbeat. Atrial fibrillation affects the upper two chambers of the heart, the atria. All blood circulates through both atria. The heart is a muscle. The walls of the chambers of the heart are made of muscle cells. Normally, the muscular walls of the atria contract at the same time, pumping blood into the lower two chambers (the ventricles). Then the walls of the ventricles contract at the same time, pumping blood to the rest of the body. More »