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

Beyond the coronary arteries: Possible benefits of statin drugs Part I: Meet the statins

Statins can reduce the risk of heart attacks and other major clinical manifestations of coronary artery disease (CAD) by up to 37%, with the greatest benefit going to men at the highest risk. And since heart disease is America's leading cause of death, it's no wonder that the seven statin drugs are the best-selling prescription medications in the United States. A large body of research suggests they may also have important benefits beyond the coronary arteries. (Locked) More »

Take your pills

One of every three adults in our country has high blood pressure which increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, heart failure, and kidney failure. Most cases could be prevented by simple lifestyle measures such as dietary salt restriction, weight control, and moderate exercise. A study of men with newly diagnosed hypertension underlines the importance of regularly taking the medication prescribed by your doctor. (Locked) More »

11 ways to prevent stroke

Some risk factors for stroke, such as family history and ethnicity, cannot be changed, but attention to factors like weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, and physical activity can significantly reduce stroke risk. Here are 11 things you can do to stay stroke-free: (Locked) More »

Fish oil questioned as treatment for heart disease

Results of several studies suggest that taking fish oil does not benefit people who already have some form of heart disease, but eating fish is still likely to offer health benefits to most people. It could fight other types of cardiovascular disease or problems like depression. And it is a good treatment for high triglycerides. More »

Hybrid heart surgery expands options

Heart problems tend to come in clumps. Arteries clog. Valves don't open or close all the way. The heart's rhythm becomes irregular. Many people face not one but two or more treatment decisions. Just a few years ago, someone who required multiple cardiac procedures might have had separate procedures done by specialists working in different parts of a hospital. This fragmented approach to care is starting to change. People who need more than one type of heart procedure may be able to have them done in a hybrid operating suite, reducing risk and some recovery times. (Locked) More »

March 2011 references and further reading

Patel M, Kim M, Karajgikar R, et al. Outcomes of patients discharged the same day following percutaneous coronary intervention. JACC Cardiovascular Interventions 2010; 3:851-8. Chambers CE, Dehmer GJ, Cox DA, et al. Defining the length of stay following percutaneous coronary intervention: an expert consensus document from the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions. Endorsed by the American College of Cardiology Foundation. Catheterization and Cardiovascular Interventions 2009; 73:847-58. Schermerhorn ML, O'Malley AJ, Jhaveri A, Cotterill P, Pomposelli F, Landon BE. Endovascular vs. open repair of abdominal aortic aneurysms in the Medicare population. New England Journal of Medicine 2008; 358:464-74. (Locked) More »

Peripheral artery disease screening

My senior center is sponsoring a test to check for "peripheral artery disease." The test is free, and they say it's safe and painless. Do you think it's a good idea? (Locked) More »