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

Can a slow heartbeat be dangerous?

A slow heartbeat may be nothing serious. But it may be a sign of disease, or it may be the side effect of a medication that can cause a slow heartbeat. A "slow" heartbeat is usually defined as below 60 beats per minute at rest (some experts say below 50). Some people have a slow heartbeat but no symptoms. Symptoms from a slow heartbeat include lightheadedness or feeling faint or actually fainting. They also include breathlessness. A person with symptoms that could be caused by a slow heartbeat should be medically evaluated. (Locked) More »

The dairy dilemma

Federal guidelines recommend two to three servings of low-fat or nonfat milk, cheese, or yogurt per day. However, some experts suggest limiting dairy to a single serving per day. Although fat from dairy products does not seem to increase heart disease risk, substituting fat from vegetables or vegetable oil for some dairy fat may lower a person’s risk. As more people move toward plant-based diets, popular alternatives for milk include almond and oat milk. (Locked) More »

Cardiology specialists: When you need extra expertise

Seeing a cardiologist is standard practice following a heart attack. But some people—such as those with a family history of early heart disease—may want to consult a cardiologist even if they haven’t experienced a heart-related scare. People who have multiple risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity, also may want to consider an evaluation by a heart disease expert. General cardiologists have broad knowledge about managing atherosclerosis, as well as diagnosing and treating heart rhythm disorders, heart valve problems, and other blood vessel disorders. (Locked) More »

Home cooking with less salt

Home cooking using fresh, unprocessed foods and eating lower-sodium versions of dressings and condiments can help people eat less sodium. Most Americans still consume far too much of the mineral, which raises blood pressure. Other tips to lower sodium include rinsing canned beans, vegetables, and tuna fish before using; not adding salt to the water when cooking pasta, rice, or other grains; and using fresh herbs, spices, citrus juice, or vinegar to enhance flavor instead of salt. When baking, people can use baking powder made with potassium bicarbonate instead of sodium bicarbonate. More »

How noise pollution may harm the heart

Long-term exposure to traffic noise may lead to heightened activity in the amygdala, the brain region involved in processing stress, anxiety, and fear. This link may explain why chronic noise appears to raise cardiovascular risk. More »

Seed of the month: Flaxseeds

Flaxseeds are shiny, reddish or golden-brown seeds that have a slightly nutty taste. They contain healthful nutrients such as linolenic acid, an essential omega-3 fatty acid. (Locked) More »

What causes a leaky mitral valve?

The mitral valve controls blood flow between the upper and lower chambers on the left side of the heart. Some people are born with a faulty mitral valve, which can cause blood to leak backward across the valve, a problem known as mitral regurgitation. But most people acquire mitral regurgitation in response to a different heart ailment, such as a heart attack, heart failure, or heart muscle disease. People with a moderate amount of mitral regurgitation should see their physician twice a year and get a yearly echocardiogram, or sooner if they develop symptoms. These include shortness of breath, fatigue, cough, palpitations, and swollen feet or ankles. (Locked) More »