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

Heart attack and stroke: Men vs. women

Cardiovascular disease poses an equal threat to men and women, but the risks, symptoms, and outcomes for heart attack and stroke can differ along gender lines. For both men and women, awareness of sex-specific risk factors and manifestations of cardiovascular disease can help them protect against life-threatening conditions. (Locked) More »

Take nitroglycerin to ease-and avoid-a common heart disease symptom

Nitroglycerin, a drug that relieves the chest pain known as angina, comes in a variety of different formulations. These include short-acting tablets or sprays taken under the tongue and longer-acting pills and skin patches. By widening the heart’s arteries and reducing the heart’s workload, nitroglycerin can treat and prevent angina as well as help ease common symptoms of heart failure such as shortness of breath. Possible side effects include headaches and dizziness. Men who take drugs such as Viagra for erectile dysfunction should never take nitrates.  More »

The diabetes-heart disease connection and what it means for you

High blood sugar and other diabetes-related problems harm the heart in several major ways. There are now many ways to control the disease and reduce heart risk. In addition to lifestyle changes that benefit both diseases, there are new and effective medications available to control blood sugar.   (Locked) More »

A racing heart: Cause for concern?

Heart palpitations are very common. They can be caused by many things, such as caffeine, stress, or thyroid problems. Palpitations that appear as a fleeting symptom and generally require no evaluation. Palpitations that last for more than a few seconds to minutes or are associated with lightheadedness or passing out should be evaluated thoroughly by a doctor. Sometimes the cause is an abnormal heart rhythm or a leaky heart valve. Sometimes palpitations are the result of another condition such as anxiety or low blood sugar. Treating the underlying condition can often resolve the palpitations. (Locked) More »

New techniques for treating atrial fibrillation

A malfunction in the heart’s internal electrical system can disrupt the normal beating sequence and send the two upper chambers into a fast, irregular quiver known as atrial fibrillation. Episodes of atrial fibrillation can cause distressing symptoms or go unnoticed. Either way, untreated atrial fibrillation is a major risk factor for stroke. Medications are the first avenue of treatment to control symptoms and reduce risk. However, a host of new devices and technologies offer promise to people who are not helped by drug treatment. (Locked) More »