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

Abdominal aortic aneurysms: Triple A, double trouble

An abdominal aortic aneurysm is a widening of the artery where it passes through the stomach. AAs are responsible for at least 9,000 deaths in the United States each year, making them our 13th leading killer. The size of the aneurysm helps determine the risk of rupture, and whether it should be repaired surgically. New advances in diagnosis and therapy are dramatically improving the management of this condition. (Locked) More »

In Brief

Brief reports on hypertension statistics, a theory about why some people show more of an HDL cholesterol benefit from exercise than others, and more about the connection between depression and heart disease. (Locked) More »

Two-way street between erection problems and heart disease

Trouble getting or keeping an erection can be an early warning sign of heart disease, much as heart disease can signal a man's current or future sexual problems. Instance of either should prompt a conversation with your doctor about the other, as well as lifestyle choices that can improve sexual function and cardiovascular health. (Locked) More »

AAA screening

I am a 72-year-old male in excellent health. I have been diagnosed with a 3.7-centimeter aortic aneurysm. My doctor recommends an ultrasound every six months. Are six-month checks adequate? And when should surgery be considered? (Locked) More »

Let's go nuts

Nuts contain healthy unsaturated fats, protein, and important nutrients like potassium, and there is ample evidence that eating nuts regularly helps protect against heart disease. Numerous studies have shown that if you put people on nut-filled diets, favorable effects on cholesterol levels, blood pressure readings, and inflammatory factors follow. And in large epidemiologic studies, high nut consumption has been associated with lower rates of heart disease. An analysis of data from the Harvard-based Nurses' Health Study showed that having one serving of nuts a day is associated with a 30% lower risk of heart disease compared with having one serving of red meat a day. (Locked) More »

When the liver gets fatty

The increase in obesity among Americans has led to an increase in fatty liver disease as a consequence of insulin resistance. Some researchers believe that this condition may lead to heart disease. When people are insulin resistant, their muscle, fat, and liver cells don't respond normally to insulin, so levels of the hormone — and the blood sugar it ushers into cells — build up in the blood. As a result, the risk of developing diabetes and heart disease increases. More »

Premature heart disease

  Coronary artery disease is the biggest cause of heart attacks in younger men, but other causes include defective arteries, clot disorders, and drug abuse.   More »