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

Can you outrun an early death?

People who run—even in small amounts—are less likely to die during a given period, according to an analysis published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine. The benefit was seen even among people who ran for less than 50 minutes once a week at speeds below 6 mph. More »

Don’t stress about heart health

When stress becomes more frequent or lingers—what’s known as chronic stress—it can cause excessive strain throughout the body and lead to higher inflammation, higher blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, and sleep disturbances—all factors that contribute to a higher risk for heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes. By practicing certain behaviors, people can train their brain and body not to let chronic stress control them. (Locked) More »

What is pulmonary hypertension?

Pulmonary hypertension affects the pulmonary arteries, which carry blood from the right side of the heart to the lungs. The vessels tighten, become stiff and thick, or develop blood clots. These changes reduce or block blood flow, raising pressure in the pulmonary arteries. (Locked) More »

What’s the beef with red meat?

A recent study concluded that the quality of existing evidence that red and processed meats are harmful is “low” and advised that people should not change their red meat habits for health reasons. Yet the science community has rebutted this, and international health organizations continue to suggest that lowering red meat consumption can reduce a person’s risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and premature death. More »

Angioplasty and stenting through the arm

When doctors insert a stent into the heart’s artery, they usually enter the body through an artery at the top of the thigh. But for some people, using a vessel in the arm may be a safer and less costly option. (Locked) More »

Omega-3 supplements may improve heart health

A review of existing data suggests daily omega-3 supplements may protect against heart attack and death from coronary artery disease. This suggests that supplements might be an alternative for people who have trouble getting enough omega-3s from fish in their diet. More »

Understanding blood thinners

Drugs that discourage blood clots (commonly called blood thinners) don’t actually make the blood less viscous. The two main types of these drugs, anticoagulants and antiplatelet drugs, interfere with different blood components involved in clot formation. Anticoagulants treat blood clots in the legs and lungs and are also prescribed to people with atrial fibrillation. Antiplatelet drugs are used to prevent heart attacks and strokes and to treat people who receive stents. (Locked) More »

When the heart “skips a beat,” flip-flops, or flutters

Heart palpitations are defined as an awareness of a strong, rapid, or irregular heartbeat. They are among the most common reasons people consult general internists and cardiologists. Most brief rhythm disruptions are harmless, such as those caused by an earlier-than-usual contraction of the heart’s upper chambers (atria) or lower chambers (ventricles). These are often perceived as either a skipped beat or a pounding or flip-flopping sensation. A fluttering sensation in the chest may suggest an unusually fast heart rate, which can result from an electrical misfire in the upper part of the heart and may require treatment. (Locked) More »

If you have diabetes, a crop of new medicines may help your heart

New diabetes medications can help individuals at high risk for a stroke or heart attack. The benefit is primarily for people who have had a heart attack or stroke in the past or are at very high risk because of other factors. While these medications can benefit some individuals, they do have a number of side effects, are costly, and are not recommended for most people with diabetes. (Locked) More »