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

Managing atrial fibrillation: An update

New guidelines for managing atrial fibrillation (afib) now advise most people to take novel oral anticoagulant drugs rather than warfarin to prevent a stroke. Aspirin is no longer recommended for stroke prevention for afib. Another change highlights the benefits of weight loss, which can reduce afib episodes and keep the condition from worsening. The guidelines also more strongly recommend a procedure called ablation (which destroys faulty electric pathways in the heart) for people with afib symptoms who also have systolic heart failure. (Locked) More »

Ministroke: A warning sign of a major problem

Short-lived but odd symptoms—such as one-sided weakness, trouble seeing, or problems speaking—may be symptoms of a transient ischemic attack (TIA), also known as a ministroke. Caused by a temporary lack of blood in the brain, a TIA is a warning sign for a future stroke. About 15% of people with TIAs go on to have a stroke in the next three months, with half occurring in the first two days. People with TIA symptoms should call 911 for an urgent medical evaluation, as doctors may be able to prevent a permanent stroke from occurring. (Locked) More »

Shortness of breath: A common symptom with many possible causes

Shortness of breath can result from a range of problems, but heart or lung conditions are usually to blame. Sudden breathing problems may be a heart attack or pulmonary embolism, which require immediate attention. Breathing problems that come on more gradually and during physical activity may be caused by aortic stenosis or heart failure. Worsening breathing problems with coughing may be chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which often coexists with heart disease. (Locked) More »

What is diastolic dysfunction?

Diastolic dysfunction means the heart’s main pumping chambers, the ventricles, are stiff and unable to relax normally. It may lead to heart failure with preserved ejection fraction, which can cause breathing problems and swelling in the feet and legs. (Locked) More »

Fried foods linked to earlier death

A new study shows that women who eat fried chicken or seafood daily have a higher risk of early death from any cause and also specifically from heart-related causes than women who don’t eat fried food at all. Reducing fried food intake is recommended for better health. (Locked) More »

Put your heart in the right place

Cardiac rehab provides supervised exercise and teaches the fundamentals of a heart-healthy lifestyle to people who have had heart surgery or another cardiac event. During the program, which usually involves three sessions per week over a three-month period, participants get an individualized treatment plan with goals for their blood pressure, blood sugar, heart rate, and weight (and smoking cessation, if needed). Cardiac rehab not only lowers the risk of dying of heart disease by about 24%, it also improves exercise ability and quality of life. (Locked) More »