Heart Disease

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 diseases include:

  • coronary artery disease: the accumulation of cholesterol-filled plaque in the arteries that nourish heart muscle
  • heart attack (myocardial infarction): the sudden stopping of blood flow to part of the heart muscle
  • heart failure: the inability of the heart to pump as forcefully or efficiently as needed to supply the body with oxygenated blood
  • heart rhythm disorders: heartbeats that are too fast, too slow, or irregular
  • heart valve disorders: problems with the valves that control blood flow from one part of the heart to another part of the heart or to the body.
  • sudden cardiac arrest: the sudden cessation of the heartbeat
  • cardiomyopathy: a disease of the heart muscle that causes the heart to become abnormally enlarged, thickened, and/or stiffened
  • pericarditis: inflammation of the pericardium, a thin sac that surrounds the heart
  • myocarditis: inflammation of the myocardium, the middle layer of the heart wall
  • congenital heart disease: heart diseases or abnormalities in the heart's structure that occur before birth

Heart Disease Articles

BPA now linked to premature death

High levels of bisphenol A (BPA) exposure are linked to an increased risk for premature death from any cause, according to a study published online Aug. 17, 2020, by JAMA Network Open. More »

Can a smart watch diagnose a heart attack?

ECG readings taken with a smart watch may be just as accurate as a traditional ECG done in a medical setting. But the notion of using a smart watch to diagnose a heart attack is still years away. One main reason: obtaining an ECG with a smart watch requires carefully holding the back of the watch on the wrist and at eight specific locations on the chest and abdomen. Quality control and regulatory issues are other important hurdles that need to be addressed. But experts believe improved smart watches with enhanced diagnostic ability may be on the market within a decade. More »

COVID pandemic got you down?

Almost everyone goes through rough mental patches of feeling down, sad, and lethargic. If these feelings become more frequent and linger longer, that could signal a form of depression called persistent depressive disorder, also known as dysthymia. An evaluation from a mental health expert like a psychiatrist or counselor can confirm the diagnosis and offer appropriate treatment like psychotherapy, antidepressants, or a combination of the two. (Locked) More »

How can I cut down on sugar in my diet?

Cutting down on daily sugar intake may protect long-term health. People should opt for whole foods over processed choices. When choosing packaged foods, be certain to check the label and avoid those with too much added sugar. More »

Low-carb and high-fat diet helps obese older adults

Science continues to explore what is the right percentage of carbohydrates and fat in people’s diets. But for obese older adults who need to lose fat and improve their health, a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet could be the best formula. More »

Medication and your skin

Medication side effects sometimes involve the skin. There are a number of medications that can cause pigment changes, including turning the skin blue. In addition, some medications may make the skin more prone to sunburns or skin cancer. A person who notices skin changes after starting a new medication should bring it to the attention of a doctor. More »

Our evolving understanding of the problem with plaque

New imaging techniques that use light or sound waves to create images of the inside of coronary arteries have helped researchers better understand the fat-laden plaque that builds up inside artery walls (atherosclerosis). Most heart attacks happen when small, inflamed areas of fatty plaque rupture suddenly, causing a clot that blocks blood flow. This may explain why treating large, obstructive plaques with stents or bypass surgery does not seem to prevent heart attacks or help people live longer. (Locked) More »

Slightly leaky heart valves

A small amount of leakage (regurgitation) from the mitral or tricuspid valve is normal. People with either condition do not need to modify their activity levels, but they should stay alert to symptoms that suggest the problem is worsening. (Locked) More »

Take a soak for your health

Taking baths may bring numerous health benefits, among them helping ease chronic pain, improving skin health, and protecting the heart. When baths are used for health reasons, they are sometimes referred to as balneotherapy. While baths may help with certain health conditions, people should use care when in the tub to avoid slipping and also know that the hot water may lower blood pressure, which can lead to feeling dizzy or lightheaded. (Locked) More »