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

Bust your belly for a healthier heart

Visceral fat lies deep within the abdominal cavity and pads the spaces between your abdominal organs. While it makes up only 10% of total body fat, it can have the biggest impact on health, as high amounts are linked with a greater risk of heart disease. Following a high-quality diet is necessary to lose visceral fat, but high-intensity aerobic exercise may help even more. An ideal visceral fat-burning workout is 20 to 30 minutes of some kind of high intensity exercise, at least three days a week. (Locked) More »

Cardiovascular disease and heart disease: What's the difference?

Cardiovascular disease and heart disease often are used interchangeably although cardiovascular disease includes heart and blood vessel disease while heart disease is limited to conditions affecting the heart. Knowing how the two terms overlap can help people better understand why common prevention methods work so well. (Locked) More »

For most people, no need for niacin

Niacin, also known as vitamin B3, is unlikely to provide any heart-related benefit for most people. Its only possible role is for people who cannot tolerate statins, but other, newer medications would likely offer greater benefits. More »

New insights about inflammation

Inflammation plays a key role in the development of atherosclerosis, the root cause of most heart disease. A blood test for inflammation, known as the hsCRP test, can predict heart disease just as well as LDL cholesterol testing. Two recent studies of different anti-inflammatory medications in people with heart disease are helping researchers zero in on new ways to prevent heart attacks and related problems. But the quest for effective treatments to lower inflammation is still a work in progress. More »

Pacemaker concerns

The latest pacemaker models not only help people stay active later in life, they’re also more compatible with today’s technology. But people with pacemakers should take precautions when lifting weights and in certain airport security situations. (Locked) More »

Replacing a failing aortic valve: No surgery needed?

A technique called transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) may soon replace surgery as the best way to replace a failing aortic valve. The procedure delivers a new valve to the heart through a catheter that’s passed through an artery in the upper leg. Most valve replacements are done to treat aortic stenosis, which usually results from an age-related buildup of calcium deposits on the valve. TAVR offers an easier, shorter recovery than surgery and is also more cost-effective. But TAVR has some disadvantages, including a higher risk of needing a pacemaker after the procedure, and it might not be appropriate for everyone who needs a new aortic valve. (Locked) More »