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

An unusual type of heart attack

Sometimes, people have heart attacks that occur in the absence of a blocked heart artery. These unusual events can result from a number of causes, including a spasm or tear in one of the heart’s arteries or inflammation of the heart. (Locked) More »

Avoid these common blood pressure measuring mistakes

During a blood pressure measurement, seven common errors can artificially elevate a person’s reading. They include sitting incorrectly, having an unsupported arm, using the wrong size blood pressure cuff, and engaging in conversation during the measurement. Current guidelines also recommend averaging two blood pressure readings taken a minute apart if the first reading indicates high blood pressure (defined as 130/80 mm Hg or higher). (Locked) More »

How to spot questionable nutrition advice

People can be easily confused or misled by questionable nutrition and diet advice on the Internet. A new resource co-developed by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health offers advice on how to identify trustworthy research about healthy food choices. Some of the key attributes of high-quality nutrition research are studies that include large numbers of human participants (not animals) who are followed over many years. The best—those that assign people to different diets and track them over time—are difficult to carry out because people don’t always stick to the diet. (Locked) More »

Managing mitral valve disease: Progress and promise

Severe mitral valve disease happens when the mitral valve can’t close properly, causing blood to flow backward during heartbeats. Common symptoms include breathlessness, fatigue, cough, and swollen feet or ankles. Most cases are treated with open-heart or minimally invasive surgery. But a catheter-based device called MitraClip can repair some faulty valves. And a number of other devices—including some that can replace the entire valve—are under development. (Locked) More »

Vegetable of the month: Cauliflower

Cauliflower, which is low in calories and carbohydrates, can be used as a substitute for starchy and grain-based foods, such as rice, mashed potatoes, and pizza crust. (Locked) More »

Walk this way

A walking cadence of about 100 steps per minute may be a good way to gauge moderate-intensity exercise, but not necessarily for everyone. That pace might feel a little slow for fit people who exercise regularly. But it may be too fast for people who are not exercising regularly or who have illnesses or injuries. A different measure, the “rate of perceived exertion” scale, may be a better guide for determining whether someone is exercising intensely enough. More »