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

Are eggs risky for heart health?

Large studies have not found evidence of higher rates of heart attacks, strokes, or other cardiovascular diseases in people who eat up to one egg per day.  (Locked) More »

Fitness trackers: A path to a healthier heart?

New, scientifically validated digital fitness trackers may help people know if they’re exercising enough to lower their risk of heart disease. They rely on an algorithm known as Personalized Activity Intelligence that converts a person’s heart rate to a number of points, based on age, gender, and resting and maximum heart rate. For people who are sedentary or have chronic health conditions, the free iPrescribe Exercise app offers evidence-based advice that can help them exercise safely.  (Locked) More »

Tips for taking diuretic medications

Diuretics, commonly called "water pills," are the oldest and least expensive class of drugs used to treat high blood pressure. They help the kidneys eliminate sodium and water from the body. This process decreases blood volume, so the heart has less to pump with each beat, which in turn lowers blood pressure. People with heart failure, who often gain weight because their bodies hold onto excess fluid (a condition called edema), are often prescribed diuretic medications.  Not surprisingly, one of the most common side effects of taking water pills is frequent urination. Other possible side effects include lightheadedness, fatigue, diarrhea or constipation, and muscle cramps. Men may occasionally experience erectile dysfunction. In addition to getting rid of extra salt in your body, diuretic medications also affect levels of potassium. This mineral plays a key role in controlling blood pressure, as well as nerve and muscle function. In general, your kidneys help regulate potassium levels in your blood. But age, diabetes, heart failure, and certain other conditions may impair kidney function. And while some water pills tend to lower potassium levels, others have the opposite effect. 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 »

The danger of “silent” heart attacks

Silent heart attacks, known as silent myocardial infarctions (SMIs), account for 45% of heart attacks and strike men more than women. They are “silent” because they can occur without the classic intense heart attack symptoms. Knowing the warning signs can ensure men seek medical attention and treatment and help avoid another, larger heart attack. (Locked) More »

Your New Year’s resolution: A gym membership?

One advantage to joining a gym or health club is access to a wide variety of fitness equipment, which may help prevent boredom and make it easier to get a varied yet balanced workout. Many gyms have personal trainers who can design appropriate, safe exercise programs that teach good form and provide motivation.  (Locked) More »