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 good night’s sleep: Advice to take to heart

Sleeplessness can detract from productivity and quality of life. The hazards of poor sleep extend well beyond a cranky mood. Research shows that an irregular sleep pattern that varies from the seven- to nine-hour norm is linked to cardiovascular risks, including obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and coronary artery disease. (Locked) More »

A salad a day keeps stroke away?

Eating plenty of nitrate-rich vegetables—such as lettuce, spinach, and beets—may lower a person’s risk of dying of a stroke or heart attack. The body converts nitrates into nitric oxide, a compound that lowers blood pressure. More »

Food trends and your heart

The type and amount of fat, carbohydrate, sugar, and salt in our food supply has changed over the years. Some of these trends (such as the banning of harmful trans fatty acids) have been positive. But to date, efforts to reduce sugar and sodium haven’t been as successful. When shopping for processed foods—anything bagged, packaged, canned, or bottled—people should check the Nutrition Facts label. The healthiest choices contain less than 5% of the Daily Value for saturated fat and sodium, and less than 12 grams of sugar per serving. (Locked) More »

Taming high triglycerides without fish oil?

High triglycerides may increase the risk of heart disease. A healthy diet low in saturated fat and refined carbohydrates, plus regular exercise, can help lower these blood fats. Levels higher than 500 mg/dL should generally be treated with medication. (Locked) More »

The genetics of heart disease: An update

Some rare types of heart disease are monogenic, which means they are caused by just one or a few genetic changes that have a very strong effect in causing disease. But most cases of coronary artery disease are polygenenic, which means they are associated with dozens of different gene variants, each of which raises risk by about 10%. Some variants occur in genes not previously suspected to affect cardiovascular risk. This suggests there are other pathways beyond the traditional heart disease risk factors such as cholesterol, blood pressure, and diabetes. (Locked) More »

Walking the dog: Yes, it counts as exercise

Dog owners tend to get more exercise than people who don’t own dogs, and the added activity likely counts toward recommended physical activity goals. Daily dog walks may also help people avoid loneliness and social isolation by fostering connections with neighbors. Walking in a park or another green space may help relieve stress—another contributor to heart disease. Petting a dog and gazing into its eyes may also help lower blood pressure. (Locked) More »

The push you need to learn CPR

Only about 18% of adults in the United States are currently trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), although 65% say they’ve been trained in the past. Doing CPR on a person in cardiac arrest (when the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating) more than doubles their odds of survival. People can learn CPR in a class thought the American Heart Association or American Red Cross. The key technique—pushing hard and fast on the center of the chest—can keep blood circulating until the person’s heart can be shocked back into a normal rhythm with a defibrillator. (Locked) More »

When a pain in the neck is serious

A cervical artery dissection is a tear in one of the arteries in the neck that carry blood to the brain. Although rare, it is one of the most common causes of stroke in people under age 50. Sudden movements that twist or hyperextend the neck can cause the problem. They include whiplash from a car accident, chiropractic neck adjustments, certain intense forms of exercise, and tipping the head back over a sink at a beauty salon. The pain from a neck artery dissection is unusual, persistent, and often accompanied by a severe headache. (Locked) More »