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

Calcium and vitamin D supplements: Good, bad, or neutral for cardiovascular health?

Evidence about the cardiovascular effects of calcium and vitamin D supplements has been mixed. Although some studies suggest that taking calcium supplements may raise heart disease risk, others do not. Low blood levels of vitamin D have been linked to a higher risk of heart disease. But taking vitamin D supplements does not appear to lower that risk. Some evidence hints that taking calcium and vitamin D together might slightly increase the risk of stroke. However, the largest study to date found no increased stroke risk. And there is no evidence that food sources of these nutrients have any harmful effects on heart health. (Locked) More »

Easing into exercise

Even if you’ve never done formal exercise, some regular moderate exercise — ideally for at least 30 minutes most days of the week — can lower your blood pressure and many other risk factors linked to heart disease. More »

Getting to the heart of a fainting spell

Fainting happens when the brain isn’t getting enough blood, which leads to a temporary loss of consciousness. Most of the time, fainting is benign and not the symptom of a serious underlying problem. In people who are otherwise healthy, fainting (what doctors call syncope) is rarely the first manifestation of a cardiovascular problem. However, people who already have heart problems are more prone to fainting than the average person. (Locked) More »

Is nighttime the right time for blood pressure drugs?

Taking blood pressure drugs before bed may lower the risk of serious heart-related problems more than taking the drugs in the morning. Bedtime dosing lowers blood pressure in the early morning, when the risk of heart attack and stroke is highest. People ages 55 and older (who are less likely to experience a decrease in blood pressure at night) may gain the most benefit from nighttime blood pressure dosing. Some blood pressure drugs cause a dramatic drop in blood pressure soon after they’re taken, so doctors advise people to take them at night to avoid falls. Other drugs have a sedating effects, which can help people fall asleep. (Locked) More »

Low LDL and stroke: A closer look

Bleeding strokes, which account for about 13% of strokes, may be more common among the small percentage of people who have naturally low levels of LDL cholesterol, which are usually due to genetics, diet, or illness. But these findings are not relevant to people who take statins or other cholesterol-lowering drugs to lower their LDL. Low LDL helps prevent heart attacks and ischemic strokes, which are far more common than bleeding strokes. (Locked) More »

What is pulmonary hypertension?

Pulmonary hypertension affects the pulmonary arteries, which carry blood from the right side of the heart to the lungs. The vessels tighten, become stiff and thick, or develop blood clots. These changes reduce or block blood flow, raising pressure in the pulmonary arteries. (Locked) More »

Understanding blood thinners

Drugs that discourage blood clots (commonly called blood thinners) don’t actually make the blood less viscous. The two main types of these drugs, anticoagulants and antiplatelet drugs, interfere with different blood components involved in clot formation. Anticoagulants treat blood clots in the legs and lungs and are also prescribed to people with atrial fibrillation. Antiplatelet drugs are used to prevent heart attacks and strokes and to treat people who receive stents. (Locked) More »