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

3 supplements that may harm your heart

Some supplements pose risks to heart health. For example, red yeast rice supplements can amplify the effects of cholesterol-lowering medications. And garlic supplements can increase the levels and effects of some medications for heart health, such as blood thinners (causing bleeding), cholesterol-lowering drugs (causing muscle damage), and blood pressure drugs (causing dangerous drops in blood pressure). It’s important to talk to a doctor before trying any new supplement, and to ask if a supplement will interfere with a medication regimen. More »

A different type of heart attack

A small percentage of heart attacks result from a tear in the inner wall of one of the heart’s arteries. Called spontaneous coronary artery dissection or SCAD, it’s the most common reason for acute coronary syndrome in women under 50. Expanded awareness of heart disease in women and improved diagnostic tools have increased recognition of SCAD. The typical person with SCAD is a middle-aged, healthy woman with few or none of the classic risk factors for heart disease, such as diabetes and high cholesterol. While the exact cause isn’t entirely clear, most people with SCAD have some sort of abnormality in the blood vessels outside the heart, including a rare condition called fibromuscular dysplasia. (Locked) More »

Atrial fibrillation: Shifting strategies for early treatment?

For people recently diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, starting with treatments aimed at controlling the heart’s rhythm may be better than the usual approach of starting with rate-controlling medications. Rhythm-control strategies, which include medications or a minimally invasive approach known as catheter ablation, may lead to fewer hospitalizations, strokes, and heart attacks than the rate control strategy. Usual care most often starts with rate-controlling drugs and switches to rhythm control only when a person has persistent symptoms, which can include dizziness, breathlessness, and fatigue. (Locked) More »

Get FITT to better fight heart disease

People who have been diagnosed with heart disease or are at high risk should adopt a regular aerobic exercise routine to help fight many of the disease’s risk factors, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and excess weight. A formula known as FITT—for frequency, intensity, time, and type—offers a guide to putting together a routine that will keep a person motivated and provide the best heart-pumping workout possible. (Locked) More »

How important are whole grains in my diet?

Whole grains are equally important as fruits and vegetables for a balanced healthy diet. People who want to choose food products with whole grains should look for the word "whole" or "whole-grain" before the grain’s name as the first ingredient. (Locked) More »

What are the long-lasting effects of COVID-19?

Fewer people who get COVID-19 are dying, but not all of the survivors are recovering fully. Some people are left with evidence of injury to the heart and kidneys. It is too soon to know whether the damage is permanent and whether it will affect their level of function. And some people, called "COVID long-haulers," experience debilitating symptoms for many months after beating COVID-19. Symptoms include fatigue, body aches, shortness of breath, difficulty concentrating, inability to exercise, headache, and trouble sleeping for many months after beating COVID-19. (Locked) More »

What is a myocardial bridge?

A myocardial bridge refers to a coronary artery that dives into the heart’s muscle and comes back out again. The condition is usually harmless but can cause angina when the heart’s contractions squeeze the segment of the vessel. (Locked) 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 »

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 »