Beyond the morning buzz: How does coffee affect your heart?

People who drink about three cups of coffee a day are slightly less likely to develop heart disease or to die from it than people who don’t drink coffee. In sensitive people, the caffeine in coffee may trigger a pounding, irregular heartbeat. Drinking unfiltered (French press or Turkish) coffee may slightly raise cholesterol levels. But in general, even for people with heart disease, modest coffee consumption appears to be safe. However, people should not rely on coffee to spend less time sleeping, because sleep deprivation is very hard on the heart. (Locked) More »

Valve replacement: Mechanical or tissue?

If you need a new aortic valve, age is the main factor when choosing which type to get. Q. I'm 66 and will be having my aortic valve replaced soon. My surgeon suggested a tissue valve, but he also mentioned that I could get a mechanical valve instead. What are the key differences between these two choices? More »

The many ways exercise helps your heart

Why is exercise so good for your health? Let us count the ways. One obvious answer is that exercise burns calories, which can help you maintain or reach a healthy weight. Regular exercise also improves factors linked to cardiovascular health, resulting in lower blood pressure, healthier cholesterol levels, and better blood sugar regulation. And that's not all: Exercise also promotes positive physiological changes, such as encouraging the heart's arteries to dilate more readily. It also helps your sympathetic nervous system (which controls your heart rate and blood pressure) to be less reactive. But these changes may take weeks, months, or even years to reach their full effect. However, even a single bout of exercise may protect your heart right away through a process known as ischemic preconditioning, according to a review article in the Nov. 29, 2017, issue of JAMA Cardiology. As it turns out, a little bit of ischemia — defined as an inadequate blood supply to part of the body, especially the heart — may be a good thing. More »

Stepping up treatments for PAD

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) happens when fatty deposits clog the arteries that supply blood to the legs. The hallmark symptom—leg cramping and pain—is called claudication (from the Latin word claudicatio, meaning “to limp”). People with PAD are also likely to have similar clogging (atherosclerosis) in their coronary arteries. One of the best therapies for PAD, called supervised exercise training, is now covered by Medicare. The therapy involves meeting with a trained exercise therapist to walk on a treadmill several times a week for 30 to 60 minutes over a 12-week period. More »

Gum disease and heart disease: The common thread

 Image: © Thomas_EyeDesign/Getty Images For decades, researchers have probed the link between gum disease and cardiovascular health. Gum disease begins when the sticky, bacteria-laden film dentists refer to as plaque builds up around teeth. A completely different type of plaque — made of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances found in blood — can build up inside arteries. Known as atherosclerosis, this fatty plaque is the hallmark of coronary artery disease. People with gum disease (also known as periodontal disease) have two to three times the risk of having a heart attack, stroke, or other serious cardiovascular event. But there may not be a direct connection. Many people with heart disease have healthy gums, and not everyone with gum disease develops heart problems. Shared risk factors, such as smoking or an unhealthy diet, may explain the association. Still there's a growing suspicion that gum disease may be an independent risk factor for heart disease. More »

Tracing the heart’s electrical signature

An electrocardiogram (ECG) is a quick, painless, noninvasive test that can help diagnose dozens of heart conditions. For people who are 50 or older, getting an ECG as part of an annual physical exam makes sense, according to some cardiologists. The test records the heart’s electrical activity through 10 small electrodes placed on the chest, arms, and legs. The resulting squiggly lines represent the electrical impulses in the heart that activate the heart muscle and its blood-pumping action. An ECG may reveal damage from a previously undetected heart attack, abnormalities in heart rhythm, or an enlarged heart. (Locked) More »

Mental stress, gender, and the heart

In people with heart disease, mental stress can lead to reduced blood supply to the heart, a phenomenon known as mental stress–induced ischemia. This problem seems to result from different physiological effects in women and men. More »