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

Dealing with the discomfort of angina

Angina pectoris is often defined as chest pain due to an inadequate supply of oxygen to the heart muscle. But most people describe the feeling as a sense of heaviness or pressure. It can also cause discomfort in the neck, jaw, and shoulders. Anything that increases blood flow to the heart, including exercise or periods of intense emotion, can trigger angina. Unstable angina (which is a medical emergency) occurs during rest or slight exertion. A number of medications can help ease angina. (Locked) More »

Legume of the month: Chickpeas

Also known as garbanzo beans, chickpeas are featured in an array of dishes throughout the world, including Africa, India, the Middle East, and Europe. Several studies have found that eating chickpeas may improve cholesterol levels and reduce blood sugar. More »

Take a breather

Focused, deep breathing may help people manage stress, which can lower their risk of heart disease. Two popular techniques include alternate-nostril breathing and diaphragmatic or belly breathing. Both techniques have been shown to decrease blood pressure and increase heart rate variability, a measure of the variation in time between heartbeats. A high heart rate variability, which suggests greater flexibility and resilience, is linked to a healthier, longer life. (Locked) More »

Target heart rate on a beta blocker

People who take beta blockers (which lower the heart rate and blood pressure) may not be able to reach their target heart rate during exercise. Instead, they can use the perceived exertion scale to assess how hard they’re exercising. (Locked) More »

Were the old aspirin studies wrong?

Over the past 50 years, changes in lifestyle and new treatments have been lowering rates of heart disease. That’s led to new evidence and advice about aspirin therapy. The new advice suggests that people between ages 40 and 70 with no known heart disease may not need aspirin. Those who have a high risk for heart disease who don’t have special risks for bleeding should talk to their doctor about taking aspirin. People who do have heart disease should take low-dose aspirin unless their doctor recommends against it. (Locked) More »

When the heart beats too slowly

Bradycardia, defined as a heart rate is below 60 beats per minute, is common in older adults, usually after age 70. Most people don’t experience symptoms, but those who do may feel dizzy, lightheaded, fatigued, breathless, or confused, and may faint. The condition may result from normal, age-related degeneration of the sinoatrial node, the heart’s natural pacemaker. Another underlying cause is a problem with the atrioventricular node, located in the center of the heart. (Locked) More »

Winter weather warning

Winter weather, especially when it’s windy or snowy, may pose an extra challenge for people with heart disease. Low temperatures constrict blood vessels, reducing blood flow to the heart. Shoveling snow, which can be more strenuous than running on a treadmill, increases the risk of heart attack. People who have or are at risk of heart disease should take precautions in cold weather, such as wearing a hat and gloves and dressing in layers to help maintain a steady body temperature before going outdoors. (Locked) More »