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

Are there any health benefits to fish oil?

Fish intake remains an important part of a healthy diet, but the enthusiasm for fish oil supplements has been dampened by several recent studies that showed no benefit for protecting against heart disease, relieving dry eye, or reducing arthritis pain. More »

Baby’s early arrival may hint at future heart problems for mom

Women who deliver a baby before the 37th week of pregnancy and experience rising blood pressure in the years that follow are more likely to develop signs of coronary artery disease, raising their risk of heart attack and stroke. Preterm delivery should be considered a potential risk factor for cardiovascular disease. More »

Getting your five a day

Research has consistently shown that eating five servings of fruits and vegetables per day is associated with a lower risk of heart disease. However, many men have trouble reaching this daily quota. To achieve this goal, it’s best to focus on food quality and adding some fruits and vegetables to every meal and snacks. More »

Narrowed aortic valve with no symptoms

People diagnosed with aortic stenosis (when the valve in the heart’s largest vessel stiffens and narrows) may not have any noticeable symptoms. An exercise stress test may help detect early symptoms or signs that warrant more attention. More »

Can you be overweight and still be fit?

Science is quite clear that excess weight carries considerable health risks, including a higher risk for heart attack, stroke, and diabetes. Yet where that weight accumulates may pose the greatest threat. A large waist size suggests excess visceral (belly) fat, which is stored in the abdominal cavity and surrounds vital organs like the pancreas, liver, and intestines. It poses an increased heart attack risk because of its association with high blood pressure, elevated blood sugars and abnormal lipid levels. More »

Heart trouble in your family? Exercise may offer protection

People who have a family history of heart disease can lower their risk if they exercise more. Researchers found that people in this group who scored the highest in physical activity, grip strength, and cardiovascular fitness had a lower risk of heart attack and stroke compared with those in the group who scored lowest. More »