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

Brushing up on heart health

Taking good care of your teeth—including twice-daily brushing and yearly professional cleanings—seems to be linked to better heart health. More »

Do you need a calcium scan?

Coronary artery calcium scans, which can reveal dangerous plaque in the heart’s arteries, are now recognized by guidelines and being are used more often than in the past. Results from the scan may help refine or reclassify a person’s risk of heart disease. But the tests don’t make sense for everyone. People who already have heart disease should not have a calcium scan, nor should people at low risk, which includes most people under age 40. Instead, the scans are an option for people who fall in between. This borderline and intermediate risk group includes people ages 40 to 75 whose 10-year risk of heart disease or stroke ranges from 5% to 20%. More »

E-cigarettes: Hazardous or helpful?

Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) may expose people to fewer toxins than regular cigarettes. But their efficacy as a smoking cessation tool and long-term safety remain hazy. Unlike other nicotine replacement therapies such as patches, pills, and gums, e-cigarettes are not FDA-approved for smoking cessation. Still, some experts say e-cigarettes might help people quit if coupled with behavioral therapy and an established, agreed upon time for complete cessation. (Locked) More »

Fatty liver disease: An often-silent condition linked to heart disease

As many as one in four Americans has a potentially dangerous accumulation of fat in the liver. Known as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, it is closely linked to obesity and diabetes and may boost heart disease risk. The milder form of the disease, nonalcoholic fatty liver (NAFL), can progress to a more serious condition called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), in which the liver cells are inflamed and injured. The plant-focused Mediterranean diet, which helps prevent heart disease, may slow the progression of fatty liver disease. Other key lifestyle changes include weight loss and regular aerobic exercise. (Locked) More »

Legume of the month: Pinto beans

In some countries, pinto beans are cooked with epazote, an herb that purportedly helps reduce beans’ flatulence-producing properties. Gradually adding beans to the diet and eating them regularly may also help avoid that problem. (Locked) More »

Salt sensitivity: Sorting out the science

Eating too much salt usually boosts blood pressure, but not in everyone. Some people are salt-sensitive while others are salt-resistant. The genetic basis of these differences involve a variety of mechanisms. Some genetic variants affect an enzyme called renin, which is secreted and stored in the kidneys. Others influence the production of aldosterone (a hormone that increases blood volume) or affect the transport of sodium and other minerals within the body. A better understanding of these variants may one day improve treatment of high blood pressure. (Locked) More »

Smartphone apps for managing heart disease

Smartphone apps that pair with devices that record data (such as a blood pressure cuff, a personal electrocardiogram, or a scale) may help doctors fine-tune treatments for people with certain cardiovascular conditions. Contrary to popular belief, many people ages 65 and older are comfortable using apps. Apps paired with devices allow people to collect health data at home in a consistent, streamlined manner. The data are then stored electronically in a simple, accessible format (such as a graph) that is easy to retrieve, view, and send to a doctor. (Locked) More »