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

How to stick to a low-salt diet when dining out

Most restaurant offerings are very high in sodium, a known contributor to high blood pressure. But people can limit their sodium when eating out by checking online nutrition information, which is required by law in restaurants with more than 20 locations. Other tips include avoiding foods that are smoked or cured, as well as processed or instant food commonly found in fast-food restaurants. Another strategy is to frequent farm-to-table establishments that serve fresh, locally produced foods, and asking the chef to grill, broil, or steam the food with no added sauces or seasonings. (Locked) More »

Putting the brakes on a racing heart

Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) is a rapid heart rhythm caused by an electrical glitch in the upper part of the heart. During an episode, the heart may beat 250 times or more per minute. With a doctor’s approval, people with long-lasting SVT episodes can try coughing, gagging, or other special maneuvers that sometimes help slow down the heart. Some people with frequent, bothersome episodes take medication or opt for catheter ablation. This procedure detects and destroys the area of tissue causing the problem, using instruments passed through a leg vein up to the heart. (Locked) More »

The sweet danger of sugar

Americans consume way too much added sugar—estimates suggest an average of 24 teaspoons per day—which can have a serious impact on heart health. Consuming natural sugar is better, as plant foods also have high amounts of fiber, essential minerals, and antioxidants. But even so called healthy carbs can have added sugar—extra amounts that food manufacturers add to products to increase flavor and extend shelf life. (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 »

When heart attacks go unrecognized

Nearly half of all heart attacks are “silent,” meaning the person doesn’t realize it at the time. One reason may be a higher-than-average pain tolerance. People with diabetes might be less sensitive to pain because the disease can deaden nerves. However, failure to recognize atypical heart attack symptoms is a more likely explanation. Nonclassic symptoms include shortness of breath, weakness, nausea or vomiting, and unexplained fatigue. (Locked) More »

Why middle-age spread is a health threat

Visceral fat — the padding around the abdominal organs — produces hormones and other molecules that promote inflammation, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis. Aerobic exercise and avoiding simple sugars can help reduce visceral fat. (Locked) More »