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

E-cigarettes: Hazardous or helpful?

Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) may expose people to fewer toxins than regular cigarettes. But their efficacy as a smoking cessation tool and long-term safety remain hazy. Unlike other nicotine replacement therapies such as patches, pills, and gums, e-cigarettes are not FDA-approved for smoking cessation. Still, some experts say e-cigarettes might help people quit if coupled with behavioral therapy and an established, agreed upon time for complete cessation. (Locked) More »

Fatty liver disease: An often-silent condition linked to heart disease

As many as one in four Americans has a potentially dangerous accumulation of fat in the liver. Known as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, it is closely linked to obesity and diabetes and may boost heart disease risk. The milder form of the disease, nonalcoholic fatty liver (NAFL), can progress to a more serious condition called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), in which the liver cells are inflamed and injured. The plant-focused Mediterranean diet, which helps prevent heart disease, may slow the progression of fatty liver disease. Other key lifestyle changes include weight loss and regular aerobic exercise. (Locked) More »

Feel healthy? You still may be at risk for heart disease

Even if people believe they are in excellent health, they could still be at risk for a heart attack or stroke, suggests a new study that compared self-reported health scores with coronary artery calcium scans that measured plaque buildup in the arteries of the heart. More »

How much sleep do we really need?

There is no way to know if someone who gets less or more than the recommended nightly amount of sleep will have adverse health effects as a result, but following the general advice is the safe choice. (Locked) More »

Poor sense of smell may predict risk of death in older adults

Shorter term studies have suggested a link between loss of smell among older adults and risk of death. A new report confirms that the association between loss of smell and earlier death persists over more than a decade and identifies the leading causes: cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. More »

Smartphone apps for managing heart disease

Smartphone apps that pair with devices that record data (such as a blood pressure cuff, a personal electrocardiogram, or a scale) may help doctors fine-tune treatments for people with certain cardiovascular conditions. Contrary to popular belief, many people ages 65 and older are comfortable using apps. Apps paired with devices allow people to collect health data at home in a consistent, streamlined manner. The data are then stored electronically in a simple, accessible format (such as a graph) that is easy to retrieve, view, and send to a doctor. (Locked) More »

Take a stand against heart disease

Almost one-quarter of adults still don’t meet the federal guidelines for physical activity, and chronic sitting may be a major reason. New statistics have found that a vast majority of older adults spend at least two hours a day or even longer sitting. This can lead to weight gain, blood clots in the legs, and is associated with an increased risk for a heart attack and stroke. (Locked) More »

Cardiovascular disease and heart disease: What's the difference?

Cardiovascular disease and heart disease often are used interchangeably although cardiovascular disease includes heart and blood vessel disease while heart disease is limited to conditions affecting the heart. Knowing how the two terms overlap can help people better understand why common prevention methods work so well. (Locked) More »

Replacing a failing aortic valve: No surgery needed?

A technique called transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) may soon replace surgery as the best way to replace a failing aortic valve. The procedure delivers a new valve to the heart through a catheter that’s passed through an artery in the upper leg. Most valve replacements are done to treat aortic stenosis, which usually results from an age-related buildup of calcium deposits on the valve. TAVR offers an easier, shorter recovery than surgery and is also more cost-effective. But TAVR has some disadvantages, including a higher risk of needing a pacemaker after the procedure, and it might not be appropriate for everyone who needs a new aortic valve. (Locked) More »