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

E-cigs: A threat to the heart?

E-cigarettes have rapidly gained popularity as a low-risk alternative to tobacco. But many questions remain about their safety and utility as a smoking cessation aid. In response to concerns about the use of the products by young people and possible contaminants in the nicotine vapor, the FDA has announced its intent to impose regulations on the devices. (Locked) More »

Predicting heart disease risk in women

Biomarkers are substances produced by the body that can help assess disease risk. A number of new markers under investigation might help further fine-tune the ability to determine heart disease risk. (Locked) More »

Easing depression and anxiety in people with heart disease

A phone-based counseling program to treat depression, anxiety, and panic disorder in people hospitalized for heart disease led to improvements in mental health and fewer, less severe symptoms of heart disease. The program included information and counseling, initially in the hospital and later via phone. Participants also received antidepressants as needed, coordinated through primary care providers.  (Locked) More »

A sugary diet may spell trouble for your heart

A sugar-laden diet may raise the risk of heart disease, even in people who are not overweight. Sugar-sweetened beverages such as sodas, energy drinks, and sports drinks are by far the biggest sources of added sugar in the average American’s diet. A 12-ounce can of regular soda contains about 9 teaspoons of sugar—the recommended daily limit of added sugar for men, according to the American Heart Association. (The recommended daily limit for women is about 6 teaspoons.)  (Locked) More »

Beware of possible risks from cold and flu remedies

Taking over-the-counter cold and flu remedies that contain phenylephrine plus acetaminophen may lead to high blood levels of phenylephrine. Possible side effects—high blood pressure and a fast heartbeat—could spell danger for people with heart disease.  (Locked) More »

The essentials to keep a man's heart healthy

Many things contribute to a man’s risk of cardiovascular disease (heart attacks and strokes). The key factors to address are body weight, diet, exercise, stress control, cholesterol, and blood pressure.  These account for most of a man’s cardiac risk. For those who meet certain criteria, a cholesterol-lowering statin drug or a daily low-dose aspirin can also reduce risk, particularly in a man who has already experienced a heart attack or stroke. (Locked) More »

Watch your weight and your waist: Extra pounds may mean heart disease

At any age, extra weight increases the risk of death. Belly fat is particularly dangerous. People with excess belly fat often have high triglyceride levels, low levels of beneficial HDL cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar. These factors add up to a condition called metabolic syndrome, which increases the chance of developing diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. That’s why having a normal weight with belly fat is as dangerous as being obese. There are many ways to lower your weight and keep it down: walk, lift weights, stretch, improve your balance, do sit-ups, eat smaller portions, eat more protein, eat quality calories, be gentle with salt, and tell your doctor if your appetite declines. (Locked) More »