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 »

2020 vision: Cardiology trends to watch

Several new cardiology technologies are gaining traction, including digital stethoscopes, handheld ultrasound devices, and a cuffless blood pressure monitor. Designed for use with smartphones or tablets, they hold the promise of faster, non-invasive diagnoses of various heart-related conditions. A lab-on-a-chip may help researchers find better anti-clotting medications, and a drug that lowers stubbornly high cholesterol with just two injections per year is being tested. (Locked) More »

Angioplasty and stenting through the arm

When doctors insert a stent into the heart’s artery, they usually enter the body through an artery at the top of the thigh. But for some people, using a vessel in the arm may be a safer and less costly option. (Locked) More »

Born to move: Human hearts evolved to need exercise

Chimpanzees, which are humans’ closest evolutionary relatives, have hearts with thick, stiff walls. This adaptation reflects their need for short bouts of climbing and fighting. In contrast, prehistoric people had to hunt and gather food to survive, so the human heart evolved to have thinner, more flexible walls. These adaptations reinforce the importance of regular brisk walking or jogging throughout life to stay healthy. Young people who don’t exercise regularly may have hearts that more closely resemble chimpanzee hearts. This may contribute to high blood pressure later in life. More »

Great grains, super seeds

Whole grains and seeds contain many healthful nutrients. Eating them has been linked to a wide range of health benefits, including lowering blood pressure, blood sugar, and blood cholesterol and reducing chronic inflammation. (Locked) More »

Omega-3 supplements may improve heart health

A review of existing data suggests daily omega-3 supplements may protect against heart attack and death from coronary artery disease. This suggests that supplements might be an alternative for people who have trouble getting enough omega-3s from fish in their diet. 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 »

When the heart “skips a beat,” flip-flops, or flutters

Heart palpitations are defined as an awareness of a strong, rapid, or irregular heartbeat. They are among the most common reasons people consult general internists and cardiologists. Most brief rhythm disruptions are harmless, such as those caused by an earlier-than-usual contraction of the heart’s upper chambers (atria) or lower chambers (ventricles). These are often perceived as either a skipped beat or a pounding or flip-flopping sensation. A fluttering sensation in the chest may suggest an unusually fast heart rate, which can result from an electrical misfire in the upper part of the heart and may require treatment. (Locked) More »