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

5 things to know about your morning cup of joe

A recent review found not only that coffee won’t harm cardiovascular health or raise the risk of cancer, but it may actually have some health benefits. These include a lower risk of diabetes, and certain cancers, such as liver, and endometrial cancer. Many of these benefits may come from plant chemicals found in coffee. (Locked) More »

A silent condition may be taking a toll on your health

Prediabetes is a common condition, and often goes undetected. People with this condition have a number of health risks, including a greater chance of suffering a heart attack or stroke. In addition, they are more likely to develop diabetes, which can lead to additional health problems, such as kidney disease and a higher rate of infection. Testing for prediabetes can find the condition early and potentially prevent it from progressing to diabetes. (Locked) More »

Air pollution: An invisible threat to your heart

Exposure to microscopic particles called PM2.5 in air pollution may increase a person’s risk of heart attack, stroke, and heart rhythm disorders. The tiny particles pass from the lungs into the bloodstream, triggering inflammation and other cell-damaging processes. Air pollution comes mainly from coal-fired power plants, industrial factories, and motor vehicles. To limit exposure, people should try to avoid exercising outdoors near busy roads or industrial areas. (Locked) More »

Beyond "bad" cholesterol: A closer look at your blood lipids

For assessing heart disease risk, a standard cholesterol test doesn’t always tell the whole story. Some people with "normal" LDL cholesterol levels might benefit from a test that measures apolipoprotein B (apoB). This test, which measures the number of LDL particles as well as other particles that can contribute to clogged arteries, may be a better indicator of heart disease risk than just an LDL cholesterol value. (Locked) More »

Moderate amounts of coffee are the best

Drinking no more than four or five 8-ounce cups of coffee per day—equal to about 400 milligrams of caffeine—helps people get the drink’s health benefits with a lower risk of caffeine side effects like anxiety and nervousness. More »

What is a silent stroke?

Most strokes are caused by a clot that blocks a blood vessel in the brain. Those that damage small areas of brain tissue that don’t control any vital functions are known as silent strokes because they don’t cause any noticeable symptoms. (Locked) More »

Why you should move — even just a little — throughout the day

People who sit for long, uninterrupted periods of time may increase their risk of cardiovascular disease, even if they get the recommended 30 minutes of daily exercise. Sedentary behavior appears to make people more prone to developing insulin resistance and inflammation, which are key players in the buildup of fatty plaque inside arteries. Experts say people should add short bursts of movement to their daily routine to break up long periods of sitting. (Locked) More »