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

Acetaminophen may boost blood pressure

A small Swiss study found that daily use of acetaminophen can cause an increase in blood pressure, which is of concern to people with cardiovascular disease. When the participants took acetaminophen, average systolic blood pressure increased from 122.4 to 125.3, while the average diastolic pressure increased from 73.2 to 75.4. Blood pressure stayed steady when participants took the placebo. More »

Ask the doctor: Could a sudden gain in weight be caused by hot weather?

At 80 years old, I am in relatively good health, aside from a recent diagnosis of high blood pressure. Taking a beta blocker and watching my salt has brought my blood pressure down into the normal range. During a period of extreme heat this summer, my ankles were more swollen than usual, and my weight jumped three pounds in just two days. Was that because of the heat, or did salt have something to do with it? (Locked) More »

Ask the doctor: Could getting a pacemaker have damaged my vagus nerve?

I recently had a pacemaker implanted. While the process was going on, I felt a pulsation that I reported to the doctor. I still feel it seven months later. Other symptoms include low blood pressure, an increase in weight, and digestive changes. My primary care doctor thinks that my vagus nerve could have been damaged when the pacemaker was implanted. Is that possible? (Locked) More »

In Brief

Brief updates on coughing as a side effect of a type of blood pressure medication, waist circumference as an indicator of longevity, and a possible correlation between multiple miscarriages and increased risk of heart attack. (Locked) More »

Job strain and heart disease risk in women

Harvard researchers have uncovered strong links between women's job stress and cardiovascular disease. Findings from the Women's Health Study (WHS) — a landmark inquiry into disease prevention involving more than 17,000 female health professionals — show that women whose work is highly stressful have a 40% increased risk of heart disease (including heart attacks and the need for coronary artery surgery), compared with their less stressed colleagues. More »

New drug offers warfarin alternative for atrial fibrillation

A newly approved alternative to warfarin, a drug called dabigatran (sold under the brand name Pradaxa), fights stroke better than warfarin, with less bleeding into the brain, among people with atrial fibrillation. It could also make life a little bit easier for them. Pradaxa is not affected by diet and does not require its dosage to be fine-tuned. For some people, switching right away to Pradaxa makes sense. For others, it is worth adopting a watch-and-wait strategy. Talk with your doctor to see which approach is right for you. (Locked) More »

Protect your heart during dental work

In the past, people taking an antiplatelet medication were usually told to stop taking it temporarily before dental surgery, but doing so may increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke in the weeks following the procedure. Experts we talked to offered advice about how to protect your heart if you need to undergo periodontal treatment or other invasive dental work. (Locked) More »