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

Abdominal aortic aneurysms: Triple A, double trouble

An abdominal aortic aneurysm is a widening of the artery where it passes through the stomach. AAs are responsible for at least 9,000 deaths in the United States each year, making them our 13th leading killer. The size of the aneurysm helps determine the risk of rupture, and whether it should be repaired surgically. New advances in diagnosis and therapy are dramatically improving the management of this condition. (Locked) More »

Alcohol after a heart attack

My husband just had a mild heart attack, and now he wants to have wine with dinner every night. We've both heard that wine is good for the heart, but I'm worried that it may not be safe so soon after. I hope you can reassure me or restrain my husband. (Locked) More »

Ask the doctor: Alternative to warfarin

  For several years, I have been taking warfarin because of atrial fibrillation. I recently suffered nosebleeds, which took two days to control. The trauma of those episodes makes me want to swear off warfarin, but I am not sure what other options I have.   (Locked) More »

Ask the doctor: Headache and stroke

I have heard that one symptom of a stroke is "the worst headache you can imagine." I recently had a migraine that was so much more painful than previous ones that I worried it was a stroke. Is there any way to tell a migraine from a "stroke headache"? (Locked) More »

Ask the doctor: Nuclear stress tests

I recently had a nuclear stress test and the contrast agent got stuck in my gut, so the image couldn't be read. Is this a common problem, and is there anything that can be done about it? (Locked) More »

Gloomy forecast on heart disease

The American Heart Association is predicting significant increases in heart disease among baby boomers, along with associated health care costs. Following better health habits can help prevent heart disease. In a report, the AHA offers a gloomy forecast for cardiovascular disease in 2030: high blood pressure, up 10%; heart disease, up 17%; heart failure and stroke, each up 25%. If the projections are accurate, today's 81 million American adults with cardio vascular disease will swell to 110 million by 2030; the cost of treating them will balloon to $818 billion. Here are proven strategies for protecting the heart and arteries: (Locked) More »

Hysterectomy linked to increase in heart disease

Women who have a hysterectomy, especially those under 50 who also have their ovaries removed, seem to be at increased risk of heart disease. A sudden and dramatic reduction in female hormones after the procedure may explain why. Emerging evidence linking hysterectomy to increased risk of cardiovascular disease should prompt a rethinking of the operation's balance of benefits and risks, especially among younger women and those who have their ovaries removed as part of a hysterectomy. (Locked) More »

May 2011 Heart Letter references and further reading

Heidenreich PA, Trogdon JG, Khavjou OA, et al. Forecasting the future of cardiovascular disease in the United States: a policy statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation 2011; 123:933-44. Schober P, van Dehn FB, Bierens JJ, Loer SA, Schwarte LA. Public Access Defibrillation: Time to Access the Public. Annals of Emergency Medicine, published online Feb. 2, 2011 Schwartz BG, Kloner RA. Clinical cardiology: physician update: erectile dysfunction and cardiovascular disease. Circulation 2011; 123(1):98-101. (Locked) More »