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

Wrist artery a safe approach to the heart

Most angioplasty procedures are performed through the femoral artery in the groin, but the radial artery in the wrist is also a viable access point, and may be slightly safer for some patients. More »

Optimism and your health

Numerous studies have shown an association between a positive, optimistic life outlook and lower risk of heart attack, high blood pressure, and coronary artery disease, as well as better overall health and improved longevity. More »

The status of statins

Statins have been shown to reduce the risk of cardiac disease in women as well as in men. They may also reduce the risk of breast cancer and slow the progression of cognitive decline, and in general, their benefits seem to outweigh their risks. More »

Gene tests for some, not all

Certain inherited genetic conditions increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, so having a genetic test may show whether a person is at risk for heart disease, especially if a family member has one of the conditions. More »

Medication vs. stents for heart disease treatment

What's the best way to "fix" a narrowed coronary artery? That question was the crux of a multimillion-dollar trial dubbed COURAGE, short for Clinical Outcomes Utilizing Revascularization and Aggressive Drug Evaluation. Its results, presented in the spring of 2007, stunned some doctors and seemed to shock the media, but we hope they won't come as a surprise to readers: For people with stable coronary artery disease (clogged arteries nourishing the heart), artery-opening angioplasty was no better than medications and lifestyle changes at preventing future heart attacks or strokes, nor did it extend life. The media tended to play up the COURAGE results, which were presented at the American College of Cardiology's annual meeting in March, as a David slays Goliath story. But it wasn't that at all. Before going any further, it's important to stress that this trial compared angioplasty and medical therapy only for stable angina (chest pain on exertion) or narrowed coronary arteries that don't cause any symptoms. For a sudden blockage of a coronary artery, emergency artery-opening balloon angioplasty followed by the placement of a stent is the best remedy around. (Locked) More »