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

Home cooking with less salt

Home cooking using fresh, unprocessed foods and eating lower-sodium versions of dressings and condiments can help people eat less sodium. Most Americans still consume far too much of the mineral, which raises blood pressure. Other tips to lower sodium include rinsing canned beans, vegetables, and tuna fish before using; not adding salt to the water when cooking pasta, rice, or other grains; and using fresh herbs, spices, citrus juice, or vinegar to enhance flavor instead of salt. When baking, people can use baking powder made with potassium bicarbonate instead of sodium bicarbonate. More »

How noise pollution may harm the heart

Long-term exposure to traffic noise may lead to heightened activity in the amygdala, the brain region involved in processing stress, anxiety, and fear. This link may explain why chronic noise appears to raise cardiovascular risk. More »

New hope for an inherited form of heart disease

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), the most common form of inherited heart disease, is thought to affect one in 500 people. It can be challenging to diagnose because the symptoms vary widely and are sometimes mistaken for other disorders. Many people with HCM have no symptoms or only mild ones for most of their lives. Others notice breathlessness, fatigue, or chest pain, or they have episodes of fainting or near-fainting (particularly during exertion). The disease is passed from one generation to the next by way of dominant-acting mutations in genes that govern the structure of the heart muscle. (Locked) More »

Seed of the month: Flaxseeds

Flaxseeds are shiny, reddish or golden-brown seeds that have a slightly nutty taste. They contain healthful nutrients such as linolenic acid, an essential omega-3 fatty acid. (Locked) More »

Understanding triglycerides

Triglycerides are the most common form of fat both in food and in the bloodstream. Growing evidence suggests that above-normal triglyceride levels can raise the risk of cardiovascular disease. More »

What causes a leaky mitral valve?

The mitral valve controls blood flow between the upper and lower chambers on the left side of the heart. Some people are born with a faulty mitral valve, which can cause blood to leak backward across the valve, a problem known as mitral regurgitation. But most people acquire mitral regurgitation in response to a different heart ailment, such as a heart attack, heart failure, or heart muscle disease. People with a moderate amount of mitral regurgitation should see their physician twice a year and get a yearly echocardiogram, or sooner if they develop symptoms. These include shortness of breath, fatigue, cough, palpitations, and swollen feet or ankles. (Locked) More »