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

Atrial ablation on video

Atrial ablation, also called percutaneous pulmonary vein isolation for atrial fibrillation, is a medical procedure that uses small bursts of electricity to stop patches of heart tissue from sending out "beat now" signals that cause the upper chambers of the heart to beat fast and wildly. As part of its Diagnostic and Therapeutic Cardiovascular Procedures section, the journal Circulation has posted a video of the procedure. This particular atrial ablation was done by Drs. Gregory F. Michaud and Roy John, of Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital. (Locked) More »

Blood vessel disease linked to dementia

Blood vessel problems can have a significant effect on the health of the brain, including contributing to the development of dementia. Improving and safeguarding blood flow to and through the brain should help delay, minimize, or even prevent memory loss well into old age. The steps you take to protect the arteries in your heart and keep them healthy should do the same thing in your brain. These include controlling blood pressure, exercising, and eating a healthy diet. (Locked) More »

October 2011 references and further reading

Gorelick PB, Scuteri A, Black SE, Decarli C, Greenberg SM, Iadecola C, Launer LJ, Laurent S, Lopez OL, Nyenhuis D, Petersen RC, Schneider JA, Tzourio C, Arnett DK, Bennett DA, Chui HC, Higashida RT, Lindquist R, Nilsson PM, Roman GC, Sellke FW, Seshadri S. Vascular contributions to cognitive impairment and dementia. Stroke 2011. Jolly SS, Yusuf S, Cairns J, Niemela K, Xavier D, Widimsky P, Budaj A, Niemela M, Valentin V, Lewis BS, Avezum A, Steg PG, Rao SV, Gao P, Afzal R, Joyner CD, Chrolavicius S, Mehta SR. Radial versus femoral access for coronary angiography and intervention in patients with acute coronary syndromes (RIVAL): a randomised, parallel group, multicentre trial. Lancet 2011; 377:1409-20. Brien SE, Ronksley PE, Turner BJ, Mukamal KJ, Ghali WA. Effect of alcohol consumption on biological markers associated with risk of coronary heart disease: systematic review and meta-analysis of interventional studies. BMJ 2011; 342:d636. (Locked) More »

On call: Simvastatin in the morning?

My doctor started me on Zocor. I have had just one side effect, forgetfulness. I often forget to take my pill in the evening. So I'd like to know if it would be okay to take Zocor in the morning with my other pills, which I never forget. (Locked) More »

The smartphone will see you now

Hundreds of heart-related applications are available for the iPhone, Android, Blackberry, and other smartphones. Many are little more than glorified diaries or pamphlets. A growing number, though, are tapping into the sophisticated technology packed into these phones. Here are a few examples of useful heart-related apps and devices. (Locked) More »