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

No connection between ARBs and cancer

The Food and Drug Administration has concluded that angiotensin-receptor blocker medications used to treat high blood pressure do not increase the risk of developing lung cancer. (Locked) More »

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 »

Trial clouds use of niacin with a statin

A large clinical trial dubbed AIM-HIGH was designed to gauge whether adding a prescription form of niacin (Niaspan) to a cholesterol-lowering statin makes sense for people with low HDL. When the trial's safety panel analyzed preliminary results, niacin didn't offer any additional benefit. A small and highly unexpected difference in the rate of ischemic (clot-caused) stroke — 1.6% in the niacin group versus 0.7% in the statin-only group — contributed to the panel's decision to halt AIM-HIGH early. (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 »