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

Hidden risk factors that could put your heart in danger

Women who had gestational diabetes or pre-eclampsia during pregnancy have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease later in life. As a result, they should take prevention seriously and be aggressive about lifestyle interventions. (Locked) More »

Understanding COPD from a cardiovascular perspective

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) includes damage to the air sacs of the lungs (emphysema) and inflammation in the lung’s airways (bronchitis). Some of the symptoms of COPD, such as trouble breathing, fatigue, and chest tightness during physical activity, may be mistakenly attributed to heart disease. Smoking increases the risk of both heart disease and COPD. Current or former smokers should consider getting tested for COPD with a simple lung function test known as spirometry. More »

What is long QT syndrome?

Long QT syndrome is a rare disorder of the heart’s electrical system that can be caused by a genetic abnormality or certain medications. It may trigger a fast, erratic heartbeat that can lead to breathlessness, fainting, and sometimes, sudden death. (Locked) More »

Gum disease and the connection to heart disease

For me, it's been one of the more surprising observations in recent years:  study after study has shown that people who have poor oral health (such as gum disease or tooth loss) have higher rates of cardiovascular problems such as heart attack or stroke than people with good oral health. A number of theories have been proposed, including: More »

How does my health compare with President Trump’s?

Men the same age as President Trump should not use the results of his recent physical as a guideline for their health, since his 10-year risk of a heart attack, stroke, or cardiac death was 16%, which is much higher than the standard 7.5% to 10% for the average, healthy 70-year-old man. (Locked) More »