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

11 ways to prevent stroke

Some risk factors for stroke, such as family history and ethnicity, cannot be changed, but attention to factors like weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, and physical activity can significantly reduce stroke risk. Here are 11 things you can do to stay stroke-free: (Locked) More »

Cholesterol deposits in the skin

Cholesterol is best known for its tendency to accumulate in the inner lining of arteries. In some people, though, it can also appear in small deposits in the skin. When these yellowish deposits form around the eyes, they are known as xanthelasma. The presence of a xanthelasma seems to signal that an individual is at increased risk of developing heart disease. Here is an image of what the deposits look like: (Locked) More »

Shocking news: Overdoing ICDs

Concern about possible overuse of implantable cardioverter-defibrillator devices has led to a reevaluation of their benefits and risks. According to some critiques, ICDs might have been given too much credit for preventing deaths in key clinical trials, when other factors, such as the use of beta blockers, might have been responsible. Others have pointed out that the management of heart failure has improved because of wider use of beta blockers and ACE inhibitor drugs, so the risk of fatal ventricular arrhythmias in heart failure patients has decreased, very possibly making ICDs less useful than they once were. Confidence in ICDs has also been undercut in recent years by recalls of flawed devices. Some doctors have also called for more discussion and consideration of the various drawbacks and complications of ICDs. For example, perhaps as many as one out of every five ICD patients receives an "inappropriate shock" from the device that's triggered by something other than a serious ventricular arrhythmia. (Locked) More »

Stay lean, live longer

Despite studies that suggested those who gain weight with age might live longer, having a body mass index in the normal range still correlates with a lower death rate. (Locked) More »

Transfusion and heart surgery: Only when needed

The practice of routinely giving blood transfusions to patients during and after heart surgery is being challenged by research findings. In an eye-opening British study published in 2007, people who received a transfusion during or after heart surgery were six times more likely to have developed a complication related to ischemia (insufficient oxygen delivery to the tissues), such as heart attack, stroke, kidney trouble, and even death, when compared with those who did not get a transfusion.  (Locked) More »

February 2011 references and further reading

Antman EM, Bennett JS, Daugherty A, Furberg C, Roberts H, Taubert KA. Use of nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs: an update for clinicians: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation 2007; 115:1634-42. Sudano I, Flammer AJ, Periat D, et al. Acetaminophen increases blood pressure in patients with coronary artery disease. Circulation 2010; 122:1789-96. Forman JP, Rimm EB, Curhan GC. Frequency of analgesic use and risk of hypertension among men. Archives of Internal Medicine 2007; 167:394-9. (Locked) More »