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

5 habits that foster weight loss

Everyday habits like making time to plan, shop for, and prepare healthy meals can help foster weight loss. Another beneficial behavior change is eating slowly and mindfully, which helps people make healthier food choices and know when they are full without overeating. Getting plenty of sleep and eating regular, similar-sized meals may also be helpful. And people who weigh themselves frequently are more likely to lose weight and keep it off. More »

Avoiding atrial fibrillation

To help avoid atrial fibrillation (afib) or reduce its impact, people should attain and stay at a healthy weight. Excess body weight can cause the heart’s upper left chamber (atrium) to enlarge, which can raise the risk of afib. Other afib prevention tips include getting regular exercise and keeping alcohol intake to a moderate or low level. People who eat fish a few times a week may have less afib, but taking fish oil supplements has no clear benefit. (Locked) More »

Calcium and heart disease: What is the connection?

Calcium supplements do not seem to increase the risk of heart disease. But it’s best to get the recommended daily intake of this mineral (which ranges from 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams per day, depending on age and gender) from foods rather than pills. Potential calcium sources include dairy products, canned salmon or sardines with bones, and calcium-fortified orange juice. Figs, broccoli, and kale also provide modest amounts of calcium. (Locked) More »

What you may not know about your heart

Although cardiovascular disease is diagnosed later in women than men, it can begin to develop in early adulthood. The disease is more likely to affect the heart’s network of microscopic vessels and to have more subtle symptoms in women. (Locked) More »

When the heart’s smallest vessels cause big problems

Damage to the smallest blood vessels that feed the heart is known as coronary microvascular disease. For unknown reasons, it is far more common in women than men. The symptoms are similar to those of classic coronary artery disease, such as chest pain and shortness of breath. But microvascular disease is far more difficult to diagnose and may require specialized stress tests that include a PET or MRI scan. These tests can assess “coronary flow reserve,” a measure of how well the heart can augment its blood supply in response to stress.  (Locked) More »