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

After a stroke with no clear cause, a heart repair may be in order

A patent foramen ovale (PFO), a small opening between the heart’s right and left upper chambers, is common in people who have strokes with no clear cause. For them, a procedure to close the PFO lowers their chance of stroke more than drug therapy. Normally, the network of blood vessels in the lungs traps and destroys small clots and other debris moving through the bloodstream. But if a clot bypasses the lungs by taking a shortcut through a PFO, it may lodge in a brain blood vessel, resulting in a stroke. To close a PFO, a doctor threads a catheter though a vein in the upper leg to the heart to insert a device that plugs the opening. (Locked) More »

Choosing and using a home blood pressure monitor

Using a home blood pressure monitor can help people manage their condition more effectively, especially if they are taking several different drugs while trying to reach their blood pressure target. When choosing a monitor, people should select one with a well-fitting, self-inflating cuff that goes around the upper arm and a digital readout that’s easy to read. Some monitors feature a cord that plugs into a smartphone; others can transfer their data wirelessly to a smartphone or computer. The blood pressure readings can then be transmitted to physicians. (Locked) More »

Meditation may help lower heart disease risk

Meditation may have a role in reducing the risk of heart disease. The mind-calming practice may improve factors known to worsen heart disease, including stress, anxiety, depression, poor sleep quality, and high blood pressure. More »

Resistant to aspirin?

In some people, aspirin’s anti-clotting effects are weaker than expected. Such “aspirin resistance” usually occurs because people do not take the drug correctly. Also, the coating found on some aspirin may limit its absorption. (Locked) More »

Should you consider taking a fish oil supplement?

Fish oil is rich in the omega-3 fatty acids known as DHA and EPA. These fats have biological effects that may benefit the cardiovascular system, potentially including easing inflammation and preventing blood clots. Fish oil supplements might slightly lower the risk of dying after heart failure or a recent heart attack. But they do not prevent heart disease, according to a 2017 advisory from the American Heart Association. In addition, they are not necessarily free of risk. Some fish oil supplements may contain trace amounts of contaminants. And too much fish oil may increase bleeding risk, especially in people who take anti-clotting medications. (Locked) More »

Targeting inflammation: A missing link in heart treatments

Chronic inflammation is important to heart health because it plays a pivotal role in the development of atherosclerosis. Now, researchers have found that a monoclonal antibody drug originally developed to treat a rare autoimmune disorder in children can disrupt the inflammatory process in heart patients. The drug, which neutralizes a chemical messenger instrumental to the progression of atherosclerosis, was shown to reduce the risk of heart attack and the need for invasive heart procedures. This discovery opens up a new field of treatment for cardiovascular disease. More »

When you look for cancer, you might find heart disease

Screening tests for lung and breast cancer—chest computed tomography (CT) scans and mammograms—may offer clues about a person’s risk of heart disease. Chest CT scans, which are also done to detect blood clots in the lungs and for other lung diseases, can show calcium deposits in the heart’s arteries. Mammograms can show calcium in the breast arteries, which is closely linked to calcium in the coronary arteries. Calcium accumulates in artery walls, along with fat, cholesterol, and other substances to form plaque. Plaque narrows and hardens arteries, eventually leading to blockages that can trigger heart attacks. (Locked) More »

Why walnuts may help with weight loss

Eating walnuts appears to activate a brain region involved in impulse control. This may help explain why people who eat nuts regularly are less likely to be overweight and have heart disease. More »