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

A possible culprit in early heart attacks

Lipoprotein(a) is a fatty particle in the blood that invades artery walls, causing atherosclerosis. Also known as Lp(a), the particles are similar to “bad” LDL cholesterol molecules but with an extra protein attached. High blood levels of Lp(a)—which is largely determined by genetics—may explain some unexpected, premature heart attacks. Widespread testing for Lp(a) is not recommended because both the prevalence and the definition of what constitutes a dangerously high level are not yet clear. In addition, there are no FDA-approved treatments proved to lower heart disease risk in people with high Lp(a) levels. More »

After standing, a fall in blood pressure

Orthostatic hypotension, a condition marked by a sharp drop in blood pressure after standing up, can cause people to become dizzy or lightheaded. Orthostatic hypotension is more common among older people because they’re more likely to take drugs that can worsen the condition, such as beta blockers (which reduce the heart rate) and alpha blockers (which can reduce blood pressure; they’re used in men to treat an enlarged prostate). Several diseases, including diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and cancer, can contribute to the problem, which has also been linked to an increased risk of heart disease. (Locked) More »

Predicting heart disease: The sex factor

Several conditions that are specific to women or men may be lesser-known warning signals for heart disease. For women, these include problems that can occur during pregnancy, including gestational hypertension, pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, and premature delivery. All of these conditions seem to raise a woman’s risk of heart disease later in life. For men, erectile dysfunction has been linked to double the risk of serious cardiovascular events. (Locked) More »

Push past your resistance to strength training

Using stretchy, elastic bands or tubes (known as resistance or exercise bands) can be an easy, affordable way to strengthen muscles. For older, overweight, or less-fit people, resistance training can help build leg and core strength to make walking or other types of exercise possible. Muscle-building exercises may help speed up metabolism, lower body fat, improve cholesterol profiles, and ward off diabetes, all of which may help prevent heart disease. (Locked) More »

Seafood suggestions for heart health

Eating fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, or mackerel at least once a week may help prevent heart attacks and other serious cardiovascular problems, according to a recent scientific advisory from the American Heart Association. Some of this benefit may come from the cardioprotective effects of omega-3 fatty acids, found mainly in fatty fish. These fats appear to help ease inflammation, prevent the formation of dangerous blood clots, and discourage potentially deadly heart arrhythmias. But the lowered heart risk seen in seafood eaters may stem from the fact that they’re not eating beef, pork, or other foods that tend to raise heart disease risk. (Locked) More »

Vegetable of the month: Leafy greens

Leafy greens include salad greens as well as spinach, kale, chard, collards, and bok choy. A serving of raw salad greens is two cups, while one cup of cooked greens counts as a serving. (Locked) More »

What is cardiomyopathy?

Cardiomyopathy is a condition marked by abnormal heart muscle. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is an inherited condition that causes thickening of the heart’s wall. In dilated cardiomyopathy, the damaged muscle thins and stretches out of shape. (Locked) More »

Aldosterone overload: An overlooked cause of high blood pressure?

An imbalance of the hormone aldosterone, which helps the body manage water and sodium, may be responsible for about one in 15 cases of high blood pressure. A benign tumor on one of the adrenal glands (which produce several hormones, including aldosterone) is the most common cause of excess aldosterone. This condition, called aldosteronism, may also contribute to coronary microvascular disease, in which the walls of the small arteries in the heart are damaged. (Locked) More »