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

Treating heart attacks: Changes from Eisenhower’s era to the present day

Treatments for heart disease have changed dramatically since President Eisenhower’s heart attack in 1955. Highlights of the advances include techniques to restore a normal heart rhythm and to repair blocked heart arteries, the development of medications to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and advice about lifestyle habits. (Locked) More »

3 supplements that may harm your heart

Some supplements pose risks to heart health. For example, red yeast rice supplements can amplify the effects of cholesterol-lowering medications. And garlic supplements can increase the levels and effects of some medications for heart health, such as blood thinners (causing bleeding), cholesterol-lowering drugs (causing muscle damage), and blood pressure drugs (causing dangerous drops in blood pressure). It’s important to talk to a doctor before trying any new supplement, and to ask if a supplement will interfere with a medication regimen. More »

A different type of heart attack

A small percentage of heart attacks result from a tear in the inner wall of one of the heart’s arteries. Called spontaneous coronary artery dissection or SCAD, it’s the most common reason for acute coronary syndrome in women under 50. Expanded awareness of heart disease in women and improved diagnostic tools have increased recognition of SCAD. The typical person with SCAD is a middle-aged, healthy woman with few or none of the classic risk factors for heart disease, such as diabetes and high cholesterol. While the exact cause isn’t entirely clear, most people with SCAD have some sort of abnormality in the blood vessels outside the heart, including a rare condition called fibromuscular dysplasia. (Locked) More »

An unexpected benefit of better blood pressure control?

Contrary to widespread belief, aggressive blood pressure treatment does not seem to increase the likelihood of orthostatic hypotension. Defined as large drop in blood pressure when standing up, orthostatic hypotension can lead to dizziness and lightheadedness as well as fainting and falls. People with well-controlled blood pressure may actually be less likely to have orthostatic hypotension because a lower blood pressure keeps the entire cardiovascular system functioning well. (Locked) More »

Atrial fibrillation: Shifting strategies for early treatment?

For people recently diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, starting with treatments aimed at controlling the heart’s rhythm may be better than the usual approach of starting with rate-controlling medications. Rhythm-control strategies, which include medications or a minimally invasive approach known as catheter ablation, may lead to fewer hospitalizations, strokes, and heart attacks than the rate control strategy. Usual care most often starts with rate-controlling drugs and switches to rhythm control only when a person has persistent symptoms, which can include dizziness, breathlessness, and fatigue. (Locked) More »

Fruit of the month

Fewer than one in 10 Americans consumes the minimum about of fruit per day, which is 1.5 to 2 cups. Although a cup of fruit juice counts as a serving, choosing fiber-rich whole fruit is a better choice. More »

Gut check: How the microbiome may mediate heart health

The trillions of bacteria in a person’s intestines, called the gut microbiota, may mediate some of the risk factors that affect cardiovascular health. Some bacteria break down cholesterol. Others create compounds that regulate blood pressure, affect hormones involved in diabetes, and dampen inflammation. But the feasibility of changing a person’s microbiome remains unclear, which means any potential microbiome-based therapies for heart disease are still years away. More »