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

Avoiding heart problems in your 80s

Advancing age may warrant changes to preventive therapies for heart disease. For example, most people in their 80s may do better with systolic blood pressure readings closer to 140 mm Hg or above, rather than 120 mm Hg. The decision to take statins and aspirin depends on a person’s history of heart disease and other risk factors. But a person’s degree of frailty—a syndrome marked by slowness, weakness, fatigue, and often weight loss—may be even more relevant than actual age when making medication decisions. (Locked) More »

Guard your heart during the dog days of summer

Heat, humidity, and haze can put stress on the cardiovascular system. People who have or are at risk for heart disease should drink plenty of water and be careful when exercising outdoors during hot, humid weather. Those who sweat a great deal might consider consuming sports drinks, which contain electrolytes to replenish the minerals they lose when sweating. People who take blood pressure medications (especially diuretics) should ask their doctor about possibly adjusting their dosage on days when they are outside in the heat. (Locked) More »

Heart trouble in your family? Exercise may offer protection

People who have a family history of heart disease can lower their risk if they exercise more. Researchers found that people in this group who scored the highest in physical activity, grip strength, and cardiovascular fitness had a lower risk of heart attack and stroke compared with those in the group who scored lowest. More »

How atrial fibrillation may affect your brain

People with atrial fibrillation—a heart rhythm disorder that causes a rapid, irregular heart rate—may face an increase risk of thinking and memory problems. Atrial fibrillation causes blood to pool in the heart’s upper left chamber, which may form clots that can travel to the brain, causing a stroke. But tiny clots can cause silent, unnoticed strokes. Over time, these stroke gradually injure part of the brain involved with thinking and memory. (Locked) More »

Open your heart to mindful eating

Mindfulness techniques, especially those that cultivate self-awareness and compassion, may help people lose weight and keep it off. One key example involves noticing mindless eating, which happens when people eat without paying attention to their physical and emotional state. People sometimes eat to soothe anxiety, sadness, or other unpleasant emotions. Mindfulness practices teach people how to identify emotions rather than avoid them and to ride out cravings, which tend to come and go. (Locked) More »

The benefits of do-it-yourself blood pressure monitoring

People who monitor their blood pressure at home may reach their blood pressure targets more quickly than people who do not. The added information from home readings may help doctors tweak drugs and doses more efficiently. Home blood pressure monitoring may be especially helpful for people newly diagnosed with high blood pressure or those still struggling to reach their targets. Although some people are reluctant to self-monitor because they worry their blood pressure will be too high, that anxiety often dissipates over time as people become more comfortable with self-monitoring. More »

Vegetable of the month: Peppers

Mild, crunchy sweet peppers are low in calories and a good source of vitamins C and A. Spicy hot peppers contain compounds called capsaicinoids, which have several heart-healthy properties. More »