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

The crucial, controversial carotid artery Part I: The artery in health and disease

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. Detecting and treating a narrowed carotid artery is the best way to prevent TIAs and strokes. (Locked) More »

Bypass vs. angioplasty

  Studies comparing bypass surgery to angioplasty found that, for those with more serious heart disease, there is little difference in eventual outcome between the two methods.   (Locked) More »

Deactivating the ICDs of hospice patients

Hospice patients with implantable cardioverter-defibrillators may choose to turn off the shock function of the devices to avoid a potentially painful shock. Turning off an ICD does not mean removing the device or any kind of surgical procedure. It's a matter of reprogramming the device electronically through the skin, an entirely painless procedure.  If an ICD hasn't been turned off and starts to fire, holding a magnet right over the device will temporarily disable it and keep it from delivering multiple shocks.   (Locked) More »

Follow-up

Further information about cardiac rehabilitation programs for people with heart disease and yoga as a way to reduce episodes of atrial fibrillation. (Locked) More »

July 2011 references and further reading

Morbidity and Mortality Chart Book, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 2009. Myers MG, Godwin M, Dawes M, et al. Conventional versus automated measurement of blood pressure in primary care patients with systolic hypertension: randomised parallel design controlled trial. BMJ 2011; 342:d286. van der Wel MC, Buunk IE, van Weel C, Thien TA, Bakx JC. A novel approach to office blood pressure measurement: 30-minute office blood pressure vs daytime ambulatory blood pressure. Annals of Family Medicine 2011; 9:128-35. (Locked) More »

Measuring blood pressure: Let a machine do it

Participants in a research trial who had their blood pressure taken by a machine had lower readings than those who had their pressure taken by a doctor. No matter who — or what — is measuring your blood pressure, here's what you need to do to get the most accurate reading: (Locked) More »

New dietary guidelines offer sketch for healthy eating

The latest edition of the government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans tries to nudge people toward healthier eating habits and patterns. For example, an entire chapter offers advice about foods you should try to reduce in your diet. Another focuses on foods and nutrients that are worth increasing. A six-page table offers practical tips for eating more fruits and vegetables, eating out, cutting back on sodium, and more. More »