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

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 »

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 »

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 »

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 »