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

5 things you need to do after a heart attack

Recovery from a heart attack doesn’t end upon leaving the hospital. In fact, it is just beginning. Five pivotal steps can hasten recovery and help protect long-term heart health: learning heart attack warning signs, taking heart medicines, making lifestyle changes, participating in a cardiac rehab program, and communicating with health care providers. (Locked) More »

Double trouble: Coping with arthritis and heart disease together

People with heart disease and arthritis face challenges with regard to exercise—which is important for both conditions—and medications. Swimming, recumbent biking, and walking are good choices for most people with heart disease and arthritis, who tend to be less active than people with either disease alone. Certain medications to ease arthritis pain, especially nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory pain relievers, can interact dangerously with drugs for heart conditions. Avoiding certain drugs or taking them at different times may be needed. (Locked) More »

MitraClip provides valve repair without surgery

The tiny MitraClip can be inserted into the heart via a catheter to secure a damaged mitral valve, thereby easing the problems associated with mitral valve regurgitation without the need for open-heart surgery. (Locked) More »

New options to reboot the heart

Irregular heart rhythms are a common and dangerous problem for people at risk for sudden cardiac arrest. For several decades, miniature electronic devices called implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs) that detect and correct potentially deadly fast, irregular beats in the heart’s lower chambers have been a lifesaver for people prone to these episodes. Two recent advances in ICD technology are making these devices even safer and more effective to a wider range of people. (Locked) More »

News briefs: New statin guidelines: do they apply to you?

Statin use guidelines have changed for seemingly healthy adults. Statins are no longer recommended based on a person’s “bad” or LDL cholesterol level. Statins are now advised for people with a heart disease or stroke risk of 7.5% in the next 10 years. More »

Obesity as a cardiovascular disease: Time to take your BMI seriously

With the recent designation of obesity as a disease by the American Medical Association and new guidelines on obesity treatment, BMI may become a commonly assessed vital sign for determining cardiovascular risk in the same way that blood pressure and blood sugar measurements are currently used.  (Locked) More »