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

High Cholesterol (Hypercholesterolemia)

Cholesterol is a fatty substance that occurs naturally in the body. It performs several vital functions. It is needed to make the walls surrounding the body's cells and is the basic material that is converted to certain hormones. Your body makes all the cholesterol you need. You need only a small amount of fat in your diet to make enough cholesterol to stay healthy. The fat and cholesterol you eat are absorbed in the intestine and transported to the liver. The liver converts fat into cholesterol, and releases cholesterol into the bloodstream. There are two main types of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (the "good" cholesterol). High levels of LDL cholesterol are linked to atherosclerosis, which is the accumulation of cholesterol-rich fatty deposits in arteries. This can cause arteries to narrow or become blocked, slowing or stopping the flow of blood to vital organs, especially the heart and brain. Atherosclerosis affecting the heart is called coronary artery disease, and it can cause a heart attack. When atherosclerosis blocks arteries that supply blood to the brain, it can cause a stroke. (Locked) More »

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

What Is It? An abdominal aortic aneurysm is an abnormal swelling in the aorta. It can be fatal. The aorta is the body's largest artery. It carries oxygen-rich blood from the heart to smaller arteries in the body. An abdominal aneurysm occurs in the abdominal aorta. This is the part of the aorta between the bottom of the chest and the pelvis. An abdominal aortic aneurysm usually causes a balloon-like swelling. The wall of the aorta bulges out. Normally, the aorta is about one inch (2.5 centimeters) in diameter. The size increases very gradually as people age. If the abdominal aorta becomes larger than 3 centimeters, this is called an abdominal aortic aneurysm. Most aortic aneurysms are related to atherosclerosis. In atherosclerosis, fatty deposits build up along the inside walls of blood vessels. (Locked) More »

Heart Failure

Heart failure is a condition in which the heart cannot pump efficiently enough to meet the body's need for blood. Contrary to its name, heart failure does not mean the heart has failed completely. Heart failure is also called congestive heart failure. (Locked) More »


A pacemaker is an implanted device that regulates your heartbeat electronically. It monitors your heart's rhythm and, when necessary, it generates a painless electric impulse that triggers a heartbeat. Your pacemaker is programmed to meet the needs of your heart. Early pacemakers were implanted to treat bradycardia, an abnormally slow heartbeat. Now pacemakers can be programmed to treat a variety of heart problems, including heart failure. The electronic control center of your pacemaker — the part that is programmed by your doctor — is called the pulse generator. The pulse generator is a unit encased in titanium that usually is placed under the skin below your collarbone. In most cases, the unit is small, often weighing less than 30 grams (about 1 ounce). A lithium iodide battery inside the generator lasts 5 to 12 years, with an average of 7 to 8 years. Other sophisticated electronic components are responsible for: Sensing your natural heartbeat Generating an electrical impulse, called a pacing pulse, according to how the unit is programmed Keeping an electronic record of your heartbeat and your pacemaker's activity The pulse generator is attached to one or more wires called leads. These are threaded through large blood vessels in your upper chest into your heart. At the ends of the leads are small electrodes that attach to the inner surface of your heart. These electrodes pick up your heart's natural electric signals. The pacing pulse from the pulse generator travels along the leads to your heart muscle. (Locked) More »

Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the narrowing of coronary arteries. These are the blood vessels that supply blood and oxygen to the heart. The condition is also called coronary heart disease (CHD). CAD is usually caused by atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is the buildup of plaque inside the coronary arteries. These plaques are made up of fatty deposits and fibrous tissue. (Locked) More »

Heart disease and erectile function

Men: Don't be surprised if a discussion with your doctor about erection problems veers into a talk about your heart, or vice versa. Problems getting or keeping an erection may be a red flag for heart trouble down the road, and many men with heart disease have sexual concerns they aren't talking about. The connection between heart disease and erection problems (doctors call it erectile dysfunction) isn't far-fetched at all. Both follow the same age-related trajectory and become increasingly common from age 45 onward. They even share common causes. A study of middle-aged California men begun many years ago shows that smoking, overweight, and high cholesterol or high triglycerides — all risk factors for heart disease — were also linked with erection problems 25 years later.  More »

Alternatives to Vioxx if Heart Disease Present — TheFamily HealthGuide

Although the sudden decision to withdraw Vioxx came as a surprise, it wasn't entirely unexpected. Concerns about the cardiovascular safety of this medication were raised soon after it was approved for sale in the United States . As of this early October 2004 article, hard and fast guidelines for replacing Vioxx haven't yet been published. What many doctors are telling their patients with heart disease is to first try one of the older, more established anti-inflammatory drugs. Many people turned to the new drugs, called COX-2 inhibitors, because they thought they were superior for relieving pain or easing inflammation. In reality, Vioxx, Celebrex, or Bextra aren't any better at this than older and much less expensive nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others), and naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn, others). Like the older drugs, the COX-2 inhibitors can also irritate the stomach. Their main advantage is that they aren't as likely to cause bleeding ulcers. Keep in mind, though, that this "advantage" is small and far from complete - about 1%-2% of people who use an older NSAID develop serious stomach bleeding, compared to 0.5%-1% of those using a COX-2 inhibitor. More »

Heart attacks in women

Although hard-to-read heart attacks happen to both men and women, they are more common in women. One reason for this is that men's symptoms initially set the standard for recognizing heart trouble. Now a growing body of research shows that women can experience heart attacks differently than men. Understanding sex differences in heart disease is important. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women. Although it mostly affects older women, it isn't rare in younger women. One in 10 of all women who die from heart disease or a stroke are under age 65, and this age group accounts for one-third of heart- or stroke-related hospitalizations. Even so, younger women and their doctors don't necessarily suspect a heart attack even when all the signs are there. In a survey of more than 500 women who survived heart attacks, 95% of them said they noticed that something wasn't right in the month or so before their heart attacks. Two most common early warning signs were fatigue and disturbed sleep. Some women, for example, said they were so tired they couldn't make a bed without resting. More »

Diabetes Update: 2002

Type 2 diabetes affects approximately 8% of adults in the United States. An additional 10 million Americans are at high risk for the disease. This type of diabetes begins gradually, later in life. Most people with type 2 diabetes produce plenty of insulin, but their tissues resist the action of the hormone, so their blood sugar levels rise; some people develop the disease as their insulin production gradually slows down. Although treatment may prevent some complications of type 2 diabetes, which can include atherosclerosis, vision impairment, and nerve damage, it cannot eliminate the condition altogether. As a result, prevention of type 2 diabetes remains preferable. In a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), researchers from the Diabetes Prevention Program Research Group sought to determine whether lifestyle intervention or drug treatment could be used to prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes. The researchers gathered 3,234 subjects who they determined to be at high risk for diabetes based on elevated blood sugar levels. They assigned the subjects to one of three interventions: twice-daily treatment with 850 mg of metformin (a drug commonly used to lower blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes), lifestyle intervention, or placebo. The goal of the lifestyle intervention was to achieve a weight reduction of at least 7% of initial body weight through a low-fat, low-calorie diet, and to complete at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week. As measured by the researchers, the lifestyle intervention group achieved much greater weight loss and increased their physical activity level more than the metformin or placebo groups. More »

Aspirin and heart disease

The study, published in the May 9, 2002, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, analyzes the major trials on the subject. Four out of five of the randomized trials show a reduction in cardiovascular events (especially heart attacks) with aspirin use. (In randomized trials, researchers randomly assign patients to one of the treatments being tested.) But the studies' statistics vary wildly. For example, risk reduction ranged from 4%–44%, depending on the study. All but one trial showed that aspirin use increased the risk of bleeding, most commonly in the stomach. Two large observational studies also showed that aspirin use decreased coronary events in both people with and without heart disease. (In observational studies, researchers simply monitor subjects' behaviors and health, they do not test a specific treatment on them.) Subjects' ages had an impact in both studies, with aspirin's benefit on the heart kicking in when subjects hit 50 years old in one, 60 years old in the other. Other trials have found that aspirin has the greatest effect on patients with high risk for heart disease. So what should you do? That depends a lot on your heart disease risk. To calculate your risk go to this downloadable scoring system on the National Institutes of Health Web site. More »