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

Deep belly fat may weaken your bones

It appears that men with increased deep belly fat, the visceral fat that surrounds our organs, have lower bone strength. Researchers speculate that it’s because visceral obesity is associated with reduced secretion of growth hormone, which is essential for bone health, and because of the inflammatory cytokines secreted by the visceral fat cells. Visceral fat is also a risk factor for heart disease and diabetes. Exercise and diet are effective at reducing visceral fat or keeping it from growing. (Locked) More »

10 myths about heart disease

Believing outdated ideas about heart disease and what causes it can be dangerous. Ten myths that persist include the need for people with heart disease to take it easy; taking a cholesterol-lowering drug means you can eat anything you want; it’s okay to have high blood pressure when you are old; controlled diabetes won’t cause heart disease; supplements of antioxidants can lower the risk of heart disease; it’s too late to quit smoking; cutting all fat from the diet is good for the heart; a small heart attack is no big deal; angioplasty and bypass surgery “fix” the heart; and heart disease is a man’s problem. More »

How to prepare for a safe vacation

People with heart disease should take precautions before going on vacation. These include making sure to take more than enough medications as well as a  recent electrocardiogram, basic medical information, and their doctor’s contact information. It'’s important to make sure it'’s safe to fly or visit a high-altitude destination. Staying adequately hydrated is important. Those with a pacemaker or implantable cardioverter-defibrillator should ask for a pat-down instead of a wand search by airport security. Buying air ambulance or repatriation insurance before leaving home may also be wise. (Locked) More »

Harvard study says yes to eggs

It appears that eating one egg a day is not associated with an increased risk of heart disease or stroke. Although eggs are high in cholesterol, researchers say the effects of dietary cholesterol on blood cholesterol levels are small. (Locked) More »

Migraines: Can dementia, stroke or heart attack be next?

Despite the association between migraine headaches and small brain lesions that can be a risk factor for cognitive decline, it appears that migraines will not hurt thinking skills. However, migraines with aura should be considered a factor indicating increased risk of cardiovascular disease. There is currently no evidence that treating or preventing migraine reduces future risks of heart attack and stroke. People who are concerned about the risk can reduce it by controlling blood pressure, quitting smoking, exercising, and maintaining a healthy weight. (Locked) More »

What it means when your doctor says…"You have atrial fibrillation"

Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heartbeat that may also be faster than usual. If it doesn’t resolve by itself, treatment may be needed to stop uncomfortable symptoms and prevent a blood clot that may cause a stroke. Medications can control the heart rate or regulate the rhythm. Sometimes a procedure is performed to eliminate the cells causing atrial fibrillation. Most people with atrial fibrillation must also take a drug to prevent a blood clot from forming in the heart and getting into the circulation, where it could cause a stroke. (Locked) More »

Promising news about heart failure

Serelaxin, a new drug derived from the hormone relaxin, appears to reduce the symptoms of heart failure, organ damage from poor blood flow, and heart failure deaths. In men, relaxin appears to help sperm swim more easily. In women, relaxin loosens tissues in the female reproductive organs and pelvic ligaments to help prepare for childbirth. It also relaxes blood vessels, allowing them to expand. This allows more blood to reach the placenta and kidneys without raising blood pressure. In people with heart failure, the new drug made from relaxin increases blood flow throughout the body. This helps a poorly functioning heart to be more effective. Because relaxin is also an anti-inflammatory, it helps prevent inflammation associated with heart failure from causing damage to the kidneys, liver, and heart. (Locked) More »