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

Afib: Rhythm or rate control

Treatment for atrial fibrillation depends on a person’s symptoms as well as their age and other health conditions. One approach uses medications to slow the heart; another involves controlling the heart’s unstable rhythm. (Locked) More »

Can hot baths protect your heart?

A study published March 24, 2020, by the journal Heart found that people who took a daily warm or hot bath had a 28% lower risk of cardiovascular disease and a 26% lower risk of stroke, compared with people who didn’t take frequent tub baths. More »

Seed of the month: Quinoa

Although it’s classified as a seed, quinoa is usually eaten like a whole grain, as a side dish or added to salads and soups. Quinoa is rich in high-quality protein, making it a good choice for people trying to eat a more heart-friendly, plant-based diet. More »

Sugar’s not-so-sweet effects on the heart

A sugary diet contributes to weight gain and other factors that boost heart disease risk, including inflammation, disrupted blood sugar control, and increased cholesterol. The typical American diet is very high in added sugar, nearly half of which comes from sugar-sweetened beverages. Another 30% comes from baked goods such as cookies, brownies, cakes, pies, doughnuts, sweet rolls, and pastries. People don’t need to completely give up sweet treats but should enjoy them just once or twice a week rather than daily. (Locked) More »

Treatments for a stiff, narrow aortic valve

There are a number of treatments for a stiff, narrow aortic valve. They include open heart surgery to replace the defective valve, a transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) to replace the valve, or medicine. Doctors say surgery or TAVR are equally good choices. TAVR is less invasive than surgery and appears to work as well as surgery in both the short and long term. Medicines alone, while an attractive option, may be the worst choice. (Locked) More »

What can at-home genetic tests tell you about heart-related risks?

At-home genetic tests such as 23andMe and Ancestry Health are unlikely to help predict a person’s odds of heart disease. The results reveal only limited information about a person’s risk for abnormally high cholesterol (a condition known as familial hypercholesterolemia) or harmful blood clots (known as hereditary thrombophilia). Most cases of coronary artery disease, the most common form of heart disease, are polygenic, meaning they result from changes in multiple genes. (Locked) More »

Your heart’s best friend: A canine companion?

Living with a dog may help protect against heart disease and help people live longer. Potential perks of dog ownership include lower blood pressure, a lower resting heart rate, and possible small improvements in cholesterol levels, perhaps because dog owners are less sedentary than non-owners. But dogs may also provide emotional and social benefits, such as reducing loneliness and anxiety, encouraging people to interact with neighbors, and fostering stronger ties to the community. (Locked) More »

Heart tests before surgery: When are they necessary?

A preoperative evaluation (sometimes called "clearance" for surgery) helps assess a person’s chances of experiencing a heart-related problem during surgery. These check-ups typically involve a physical exam and may include blood tests, x-rays, and an electrocardiogram (ECG). Some major surgeries, such as a hip replacement, can tax the cardiovascular system, possibly uncovering previously undiagnosed heart disease. Other minor, low-risk procedures, such as cataract removal, put very little strain on the heart and usually don’t require a preoperative ECG. (Locked) More »