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

Beta blocker blues?

Beta blockers such as metoprolol used to be given as first-line drugs for people with high blood pressure. But other blood pressure drugs, such as calcium-channel blockers, may have fewer side effects. (Locked) More »

Don’t just sit there, move more!

Sitting for long, uninterrupted periods of time has harmful effects on heart health, even in people who exercise for an hour each day. The damaging effects include increases in belly fat, triglyceride levels, and insulin resistance, as well as a greater likelihood of developing heart disease or dying from any cause. Standing up or doing light exercise (such as walking) every hour or so may help lower these risks. Suggestions for adding more movement throughout the day include using a standing desk for computer work and sitting on an exercise ball or using a portable pedaling machine while watching television. (Locked) More »

Overweight vs overfat: Is your scale lying to you?

For decades, the body mass index (BMI) has been the gold standard for gauging obesity-related heart disease risk, but this tool doesn’t always tell the whole story. BMI extrapolates a person’s the percentage of body fat from height and weight. But BMI misclassifies nearly 50% of normal-weight people who have higher heart disease risk from unhealthy distribution of body fat, meaning that a person can be overfat even without being overweight. (Locked) More »

Plant-based diets that protect your heart

People who follow a healthy plant-based diet that features mainly whole grains, nuts, fruits, and vegetables are less likely to develop heart disease than people who eat a plant-based diet that includes more refined grains and sugary beverages. For heart health, completely avoiding animal products like meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy (a vegan diet) may be less important than limiting foods made with refined carbohydrates (such as white bread, white pasta, white rice, cookies, cakes, and other desserts, and sugar-sweetened beverages). (Locked) More »

Should you stop anti-clotting drugs before a procedure?

Millions of people with heart disease take anti-clotting drugs to lower the risk of a blood clot in the leg, lung, or brain. But these lifesaving drugs require careful management if a person using them needs an invasive procedure. Any surgery or other procedure in which a doctor uses an instrument to enter the body poses a risk of bleeding. This risk is greater among people taking anti-clotting drugs. But stopping the drug is also risky, as this increases the risk of a clot. People taking anti-clotting drugs should be sure to have their prescribing doctor speak to the doctor performing the procedure. They may need to temporarily stop taking the clot-preventing drug. (Locked) More »

Weighing the risks and benefits of aspirin therapy

Aspirin therapy is typically prescribed to people who have atherosclerosis of the arteries of the heart or brain, or risk factors for such disease. Just who should take a daily aspirin, how much aspirin, and what type of aspirin are hotly debated issues. As a preventive therapy, aspirin may be prescribed for people who don’t have evidence of cardiovascular disease but do have one or more risk factors, such as high cholesterol or diabetes. However, that is also debated. (Locked) More »

What is a “full metal jacket”?

A “full metal jacket” is a term that doctors use to describe a long series of stents in one of the heart’s three major arteries. Stents are tiny metal cylinders that help prop open arteries to restore blood flow to the heart. (Locked) More »