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

Dealing with the discomfort of angina

Angina pectoris is often defined as chest pain due to an inadequate supply of oxygen to the heart muscle. But most people describe the feeling as a sense of heaviness or pressure. It can also cause discomfort in the neck, jaw, and shoulders. Anything that increases blood flow to the heart, including exercise or periods of intense emotion, can trigger angina. Unstable angina (which is a medical emergency) occurs during rest or slight exertion. A number of medications can help ease angina. (Locked) More »

Target heart rate on a beta blocker

People who take beta blockers (which lower the heart rate and blood pressure) may not be able to reach their target heart rate during exercise. Instead, they can use the perceived exertion scale to assess how hard they’re exercising. (Locked) More »

When the heart beats too slowly

Bradycardia, defined as a heart rate is below 60 beats per minute, is common in older adults, usually after age 70. Most people don’t experience symptoms, but those who do may feel dizzy, lightheaded, fatigued, breathless, or confused, and may faint. The condition may result from normal, age-related degeneration of the sinoatrial node, the heart’s natural pacemaker. Another underlying cause is a problem with the atrioventricular node, located in the center of the heart. (Locked) More »

Choosing an appropriate heart test

People with stable angina (chest pain that occurs during certain activities and goes away with rest) may be evaluated with a number of different tests. The choice depends the doctor’s level of suspicion that the person has coronary artery disease. (Locked) More »

Don't give up on grains

Many people are opting for low-carb diets and cutting out grains as a result. But when they do, they might be missing out on the nutritional benefits whole grains can bring. Whole grains are not only nutrient-rich but also contain fiber and cancer-fighting plant chemicals, known as phytochemicals. To eat more, try different varieties, including brown rice, barley, steel-cut oats, and quinoa. (Locked) More »

Transforming the treatment of diabetes

A program that uses a smartphone app and telemedicine to provide frequent virtual office visits for people with diabetes may help them manage their disease more effectively. People in the program also receive a glucose monitor to test their blood sugar and use the app to send their results to a cloud-based server, where clinicians can review the results. The app also provides detailed lifestyle intervention plans, including an animated figure that demonstrates exercises and menus that include common foods that people eat everyday but with less carbohydrate, more protein, and smaller portions. More »

A purpose-driven life may last longer

Having a purpose in life may help improve health, according to a new study. Study authors found that people who have a strong life purpose were less likely to die from cardiovascular disease and other conditions than people who don’t. Volunteering, contributing to the well-being of family members, and hobbies are all things that people report give them purpose in life. (Locked) More »

Red meat, TMAO, and your heart

Researchers are finding that a substance called trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), produced when the body digests red meat, is linked to health ills such as cardiovascular disease and kidney disease. Experts say people with high levels of TMAO in their blood may have double the risk of cardiovascular disease, compared with people who have lower levels. (Locked) More »