Heart Health

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 Health Articles

Add stretches to your exercise routine

Stretching—the deliberate lengthening of a muscle or group of muscles to increase flexibility and range of motion—may encourage people to maintain an exercise routine. But there is no proof that stretching before working out helps prevent exercise-related injuries. Doing static stretches (in which you adopt and hold a position) when your muscles aren’t warmed up may even cause an injury. Instead, gentle movements to stretch your muscles and loosen your joints, known as dynamic stretching, is a better choice before a workout. (Locked) More »

E-cigarettes boost the risk of heart attack

Daily use of electronic cigarettes may nearly double a person’s risk of a heart attack. Using these products in addition to regular cigarettes (which is a common use pattern) may increase the risk of heart attack fivefold. More »

Legume of the month

To cook dried beans, soak beans overnight in cold water, drain and rinse, then cook in fresh water until tender. Preparing large batches of a pound or so and freezing recipe-sized containers of cooked beans can simplify dinner preparations. (Locked) More »

Monitoring a narrowed, stiff aortic valve

For people with moderate to severe aortic valve stenosis who have no symptoms, deciding when to replace the faulty valve has been unclear. But a watchful waiting approach appears to be safe for most people. More »

Recovering from heart surgery

Open-heart surgery leaves people with a long chest incision and a lengthy recovery. Most of the precautions people must follow during the first four to six weeks after surgery are to allow the breastbone to heal. For example, people should not drive, nor should they push, pull, or lift anything heavier than 10 pounds. They should also learn to use their legs rather than their arms to push up to standing from a chair or bed. Getting out of the house and walking every day, gradually going a little farther each day, is encouraged. (Locked) More »

Taming stubbornly high blood pressure

As many as one in seven people being treated for high blood pressure doesn’t have the condition under control. Many cases of this problem, known as resistant hypertension, occur because people don’t take their medications as directed, usually because of side effects. Sometimes, habits such as consuming too much sodium, which counteracts the effects of certain blood pressure drugs, are to blame. In other cases, other medical problems such as renal artery stenosis or obstructive sleep apnea may contribute to the problem. (Locked) More »

Understanding aneurysms

Aneurysms are bulges or balloon-like pouches that form at a weak spot along an artery. The most common—and most dangerous—are in the brain or the aorta, the body’s largest blood vessel. The weakened areas may be acquired or inherited, and both the causes and consequences vary with the location of the artery. Understanding the underlying causes can help people prevent them and know whether to undergo screening tests to detect aneurysms. (Locked) More »

When do you need a heart stent?

An estimated two million people get stents every year to treat coronary artery blockage, yet the American Medical Association says they were one of the most highly overused medical interventions. While stents can be lifesaving for people who are having a heart attack, they may not be the best way to improve symptoms of stable angina or reduce the risk of a heart attack. Instead, they should make lifestyle changes and take medications that relieve symptoms and reduce heart attack risk. (Locked) More »