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

Sodium, potassium together influence heart health

Sodium in table salt boosts blood pressure and contributes to cardiovascular disease. Potassium keeps blood pressure in check. A new report from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey suggests that — more sodium than potassium — contributes to heart disease and premature death. Here are some foods rich in potassium and low in sodium. (Locked) More »

The crucial, controversial carotid artery Part II: Treatment

The carotid arteries supply the brain with blood. Carotid artery disease occurs when these arteries are narrowed and blood flow can be interrupted. Brief interruptions of blood flow to the brain cause transient ischemic attacks (TIAs); prolonged or complete blockages are the major cause of cerebrovascular accidents — strokes. TIA or "mini-strokes" are often a warning sign of a major stroke, the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. Carotid arteries that become narrowed can be treated by either an artery-opening procedure, or by medical therapy. (Locked) More »

August 2011 references and further reading

Lloyd-Jones DM, Hong Y, Labarthe D, Mozaffarian D, Appel LJ, Van Horn L, Greenlund K, Daniels S, Nichol G, Tomaselli GF, Arnett DK, Fonarow GC, Ho PM, Lauer MS, Masoudi FA, Robertson RM, Roger V, Schwamm LH, Sorlie P, Yancy CW, Rosamond WD. Defining and setting national goals for cardiovascular health promotion and disease reduction: the American Heart Association's strategic Impact Goal through 2020 and beyond. Circulation 2010; 121:586-613. Bambs C, Kip KE, Dinga A, Mulukutla SR, Aiyer AN, Reis SE. Low prevalence of "ideal cardiovascular health" in a community-based population: the heart strategies concentrating on risk evaluation (Heart SCORE) study. Circulation 2011; 123:850-7. Folsom AR, Yatsuya H, Nettleton JA, Lutsey PL, Cushman M, Rosamond WD. Community prevalence of ideal cardiovascular health, by the american heart association definition, and relationship with cardiovascular disease incidence. Journal of the American College of Cardiology 2011; 57:1690-6. (Locked) More »