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

A device to prevent heart failure is twice as effective in women

Women tend to develop heart disease about 10 years later than men. Because women develop heart disease later, they're more likely to have coexisting conditions, like diabetes, which can complicate treatment and recovery. And because they have smaller hearts and coronary vessels, surgery can be more difficult for them. Women are more likely to die after procedures such as bypass surgery and angioplasty. A study suggests that one treatment for heart failure actually works better in women than men. (Locked) More »

Beyond the coronary arteries: Possible benefits of statin drugs Part II: Specific syndromes

Statins can reduce the risk of heart attacks and other major clinical manifestations of coronary artery disease (CAD) by up to 37%, with the greatest benefit going to men at the highest risk. And since heart disease is America's leading cause of death, it's no wonder that the seven statin drugs are the best-selling prescription medications in the United States. This article examines the noncoronary effects of statins, starting with the vascular and cardiac effects that are most closely related to cholesterol and coronary artery disease. (Locked) More »

Recycling effort keeps hearts ticking

A program is collecting and donating medical goods, including pacemakers and other implanted devices, to people in less-developed countries who would not be able to afford them. (Locked) More »

April 2011 references and further reading

Patel M, Kim M, Karajgikar R, et al. Outcomes of patients discharged the same day following percutaneous coronary intervention. JACC Cardiovascular Interventions 2010; 3:851-8. Chambers CE, Dehmer GJ, Cox DA, et al. Defining the length of stay following percutaneous coronary intervention: an expert consensus document from the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions. Endorsed by the American College of Cardiology Foundation. Catheterization and Cardiovascular Interventions 2009; 73:847-58. Schermerhorn ML, O'Malley AJ, Jhaveri A, Cotterill P, Pomposelli F, Landon BE. Endovascular vs. open repair of abdominal aortic aneurysms in the Medicare population. New England Journal of Medicine 2008; 358:464-74. (Locked) More »