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

11 foods that can help lower your cholesterol

People with elevated LDL cholesterol values may be able to reduce their LDL levels by eating more foods that are rich in fiber and lower in saturated fats. High-fiber foods include whole grains, beans, nuts, vegetables, and fruits. Saturated fats are found mainly in meat, cheese, and other high-fat dairy products such as butter, half and half, and ice cream. More »

Can high-tech heart scans help prevent heart attacks?

Cardiac CT angiography (CCTA) is gaining ground as a fast, effective way to diagnose coronary artery disease. The noninvasive test uses multiple high-speed x-rays to create three-dimensional views of the blood vessels and structures of the heart. Unlike stress tests, CCTA can detect non-obstructive plaque, which is plaque that blocks less than half of the inner diameter of an artery and is responsible for most heart attacks. (Locked) More »

Exergaming: Fitness and fun in front of your TV?

Exergaming, or active-play video games, may encourage adults (including those with heart disease) to be more active. They can offer a convenient, light- to moderate-intensity workout and feature an array of different simulated sports and recreational activities, including bowling, golf, tennis, dancing, and martial arts. But they shouldn’t replace traditional outdoor exercise or recreational activity. (Locked) More »

Healthy habits may lower harmful inflammation

Healthy lifestyle changes may lower blood levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a substance linked to heart disease risk. CRP is a byproduct of inflammation, an immune-related response involved in the formation of artery-clogging plaque. More »

How serious is bundle branch block?

A bundle branch block refers to a small glitch in the heart’s electrical conduction system, which can occur on the right or left side of the heart. Possible symptoms include shortness of breath, lagging energy, and fainting. (Locked) More »

COVID-19: Still a concern for the heart

COVID-19 is particularly dangerous for people with heart disease and related conditions such as high blood pressure. Older people have higher rates of heart problems, so they may be more vulnerable to complications, and any viral infection puts extra stress on the heart. (Locked) More »

How stress can harm your heart

Emotional stress may raise heart attack risk as much as smoking and high blood pressure. Stress has been linked to heightened activity in the brain’s fear center (amygdala), which signals the bone marrow to release white blood cells. These cells contribute to chronic inflammation and atherosclerosis. Strategies such as yoga, tai chi, mindfulness meditation, regular exercise, and adequate sleep may help mitigate the risk. But so far, the evidence is limited. (Locked) More »

Step up your walking game

Most people typically get around 3,000 to 4,000 steps per day doing things such as household chores, going to the mailbox, or grocery shopping. But people who walk 8,000 steps per day (about 4 miles in total) may live longer than those who walk just 4,000 steps per day—and walking speed doesn’t seem to matter. People who walk 12,000 steps per day may live even longer than those who take 8,000 steps. But the added benefit was small, and walking even more may not make a difference. More »

What’s the healthiest way to brew coffee?

A study published online April 22, 2020, by the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology found that drinking filtered coffee was better for health than drinking unfiltered coffee, particularly for older people. More »