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

Midlife heart health shows a link with future risk of dementia

People who have high blood pressure and diabetes and who smoke during middle age have a higher risk of heart attack and stroke. These vascular (blood vessel) risk factors may leave them more prone to dementia 25 years later. Having diabetes in middle age may be almost as risky as having the gene variant known as APOE4, which is associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. Even slightly elevated blood pressure during midlife may be associated with dementia in later life. (Locked) More »

Air pollution: A threat to your heart and longevity?

Air pollution can trigger heart attacks, strokes, and irregular heart rhythms, especially in people who already have or who are at risk for heart disease. Tiny particles (known as PM2.5) spewed from power plants, factories, and vehicles seem to be the most dangerous to health. These particles pass thought the lungs into the circulation, activating immune cells involved with the creation of artery-clogging plaque inside arteries. To limit air pollution exposure, people should avoid exercising outdoors near busy roads and industrial areas. (Locked) More »

Don’t fear pacemakers

The likelihood of needing a pacemaker increases with age, but it is no longer the scary device it once was. Pacemakers have evolved from fixing irregular heartbeats to helping the heart mimic normal function, which can help many older men with certain heart conditions stay more active longer. (Locked) More »

Not so fast: Pros and cons of the newest diet trend

The obesity epidemic has spawned a cottage industry of weight loss schemes.  Currently in vogue is intermittent fasting, which involves alternating intervals of extreme calorie reduction with periods of normal eating. Proponents of this regimen claim that it helps shed pounds faster traditional diets as well as reduce inflammation and other heart disease risks. While getting rid of excess body fat will improve a person’s metabolic profile and lower cardiovascular risk, there is no strong evidence that fasting adds health benefits beyond any other weight loss strategy. More »

Seeking a second opinion: When, why, and how?

If a physician recommends a heart-related surgery or procedure, patients might consider seeking a second opinion, especially if they have questions they feel are not being addressed in a way they can understand. Two common examples include a coronary artery bypass and a heart valve repair or replacement. Most doctors are not offended when this happens and may even welcome another expert’s thoughts in high risk cases. Health insurance companies rarely refuse to cover a second opinion consultation, but people should check their plans to see if the visit and any additional costs will be covered. (Locked) More »

Shingles may raise heart attack risk

The painful, blistering rash known as shingles may increase a person’s risk of heart attack and stroke, especially in the first year after the onset of shingles. Most people over age 60 should get a shingles vaccine, which lasts about five years. More »

What is vasculitis?

Vasculitis, which means inflammation of blood vessels, can affect vessels that supply one part of the body or many different organs. The cause is often undetermined, but it may result from an autoimmune response. (Locked) More »

How’s your heart rate and why it matters?

When it comes to your heart rate, it's a bit like the speed of your car. What you want is not too fast, not too slow, and not too erratic. In fact, most of the time, heart rhythm and pace are not things you need to think about. And unless something unusual is going on, you're likely completely unaware of what your heart is doing. Heart rate is important because the heart's function is so important. The heart circulates oxygen and nutrient-rich blood throughout the body. When it's not working properly, just about everything is affected. Heart rate is central to this process because the function of the heart (called "cardiac output") is directly related to heart rate and stroke volume (the amount of blood pumped out with each beat). More »