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

After a stroke with no clear cause, a heart repair may be in order

A patent foramen ovale (PFO), a small opening between the heart’s right and left upper chambers, is common in people who have strokes with no clear cause. For them, a procedure to close the PFO lowers their chance of stroke more than drug therapy. Normally, the network of blood vessels in the lungs traps and destroys small clots and other debris moving through the bloodstream. But if a clot bypasses the lungs by taking a shortcut through a PFO, it may lodge in a brain blood vessel, resulting in a stroke. To close a PFO, a doctor threads a catheter though a vein in the upper leg to the heart to insert a device that plugs the opening. (Locked) More »

Meditation may help lower heart disease risk

Meditation may have a role in reducing the risk of heart disease. The mind-calming practice may improve factors known to worsen heart disease, including stress, anxiety, depression, poor sleep quality, and high blood pressure. More »

Targeting inflammation: A missing link in heart treatments

Chronic inflammation is important to heart health because it plays a pivotal role in the development of atherosclerosis. Now, researchers have found that a monoclonal antibody drug originally developed to treat a rare autoimmune disorder in children can disrupt the inflammatory process in heart patients. The drug, which neutralizes a chemical messenger instrumental to the progression of atherosclerosis, was shown to reduce the risk of heart attack and the need for invasive heart procedures. This discovery opens up a new field of treatment for cardiovascular disease. More »

When you look for cancer, you might find heart disease

Screening tests for lung and breast cancer—chest computed tomography (CT) scans and mammograms—may offer clues about a person’s risk of heart disease. Chest CT scans, which are also done to detect blood clots in the lungs and for other lung diseases, can show calcium deposits in the heart’s arteries. Mammograms can show calcium in the breast arteries, which is closely linked to calcium in the coronary arteries. Calcium accumulates in artery walls, along with fat, cholesterol, and other substances to form plaque. Plaque narrows and hardens arteries, eventually leading to blockages that can trigger heart attacks. (Locked) More »

Sodium in groceries on the decline

It appears that from 2000 to 2014, the amount of sodium in purchased packaged foods declined from about 2,300 milligrams (mg) per person per day to about 1,900 mg per person per day. More »

Anxiety and heart disease: A complex connection

Small amounts of anxiety can spur people to take better care of themselves. But excessive worrying may signal an anxiety disorder, which may increase a person’s risk for heart disease. One common form is generalized anxiety disorder, which is characterized by at least six months of excessive worrying or feeling anxious about several events or activities almost every day. Other people have panic disorder, which is marked by bouts of intense anxiety (panic attacks) that may cause chest pain that is mistaken for a heart attack. Both therapy and medications can effectively treat anxiety disorders. (Locked) More »