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

New insights about inflammation

Inflammation plays a key role in the development of atherosclerosis, the root cause of most heart disease. A blood test for inflammation, known as the hsCRP test, can predict heart disease just as well as LDL cholesterol testing. Two recent studies of different anti-inflammatory medications in people with heart disease are helping researchers zero in on new ways to prevent heart attacks and related problems. But the quest for effective treatments to lower inflammation is still a work in progress. More »

Fermented foods: Favorable for heart health?

Fermented foods such as yogurt and sauerkraut contain naturally occurring beneficial bacteria known as probiotics. Limited but promising evidence suggests that these foods have modest heart-related benefits. These include small improvements in blood pressure, LDL cholesterol, and blood sugar, as well as weight loss. But people who include fermented foods in their diets should pay attention to what else the foods contain that might be less desirable for heart health. For example, some yogurts contain lots of sugar, and sauerkraut and pickles are high in sodium. (Locked) More »

Legume of the month: Peanuts

Peanuts (which are technically legumes and not nuts) are rich in healthy unsaturated fats, fiber, and several vitamins and minerals. People who eat them regularly tend to have lower rates of heart disease. More »

Managing atrial fibrillation: An update

New guidelines for managing atrial fibrillation (afib) now advise most people to take novel oral anticoagulant drugs rather than warfarin to prevent a stroke. Aspirin is no longer recommended for stroke prevention for afib. Another change highlights the benefits of weight loss, which can reduce afib episodes and keep the condition from worsening. The guidelines also more strongly recommend a procedure called ablation (which destroys faulty electric pathways in the heart) for people with afib symptoms who also have systolic heart failure. (Locked) More »

Ministroke: A warning sign of a major problem

Short-lived but odd symptoms—such as one-sided weakness, trouble seeing, or problems speaking—may be symptoms of a transient ischemic attack (TIA), also known as a ministroke. Caused by a temporary lack of blood in the brain, a TIA is a warning sign for a future stroke. About 15% of people with TIAs go on to have a stroke in the next three months, with half occurring in the first two days. People with TIA symptoms should call 911 for an urgent medical evaluation, as doctors may be able to prevent a permanent stroke from occurring. (Locked) More »

To elevate your exercise routine, head outside

Walking or hiking outdoors in nature may offer some heart-related benefits beyond what people experience from an indoor workout. Beautiful vistas may encourage people to walk farther, and trails that include hills also help the heart work harder, which boosts fitness. Using walking poles adds an upper-body workout to the walk, in addition to increasing the number of calories burned. Natural settings tend to be quieter, cooler, and have better air quality than urban areas. Finally, spending time in green spaces—nature preserves, woodlands, and even urban parks—may ease people’s stress levels. (Locked) More »