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 »

Screening tests to identify problem drinkers

Several screening tests have been developed to assess whether a person might have a drinking problem. Among these are the CAGE and AUDIT tests, as well as a questionnaire from the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV). If either of these test results suggests that you have an alcohol problem, contact your doctor, a psychotherapist, a substance abuse rehabilitation program, or a self-help group.  (Locked) More »

September 2011 references and further reading

Boden WE, O'Rourke RA, Teo KK, Hartigan PM, Maron DJ, Kostuk WJ, Knudtson M, Dada M, Casperson P, Harris CL, Chaitman BR, Shaw L, Gosselin G, Nawaz S, Title LM, Gau G, Blaustein AS, Booth DC, Bates ER, Spertus JA, Berman DS, Mancini GB, Weintraub WS. Optimal medical therapy with or without PCI for stable coronary disease. New England Journal of Medicine 2007; 356:1503-16. Borden WB, Redberg RF, Mushlin AI, Dai D, Kaltenbach LA, Spertus JA. Patterns and intensity of medical therapy in patients undergoing percutaneous coronary intervention. JAMA 2011; 305:1882-9. Maron DJ, Boden WE, Weintraub WS, Calfas KJ, O'Rourke RA. Is optimal medical therapy as used in the COURAGE trial feasible for widespread use? Current Treatment Options in Cardiovascular Medicine 2011; 13:16-25. (Locked) More »