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

Gene testing for antiplatelet drug response

A genetic test can determine how well a person might respond to the antiplatelet drug clopidogrel. But so far, it’s not clear whether the test results can help guide a person’s treatment or improve health outcomes. (Locked) More »

Harnessing big data to help the heart

Advanced technologies are beginning to transform doctors’ ability to screen for cardiovascular disease. Examples include the analysis of data from smartphones and other devices using machine learning to predict a person’s risk of disease. Two promising applications include retina scans to predict heart disease and pulse monitoring with a smartwatch to detect atrial fibrillation, a common cause of stroke. Possible future applications include capturing varied data from electronic health records, such as electrocardiograms, echocardiograms, blood test results, and genetic information. (Locked) More »

The new, potent cholesterol-lowering drugs: An update

Potent cholesterol-lowering drugs known as PCSK9 inhibitors lower harmful LDL cholesterol by more than 50%. They also appear to lower the risk of serious heart-related events by 15%. One of the drugs, alirocumab (Praluent) also appears to improve survival in heart attack survivors with stubbornly high LDL levels of 100 mg/dL or higher. To date, the high cost of these medications has prohibited widespread access. But potential changes in the drug’s pricing structure could mean that more people will have affordable access to these medications in the future. (Locked) More »

Treatments for breast cancer may harm the heart

Women treated for breast cancer may face a heightened risk of heart disease from the effects of chemotherapy and radiation. But physicians known as cardio-oncologists can offer strategies to both prevent and treat heart damage from cancer therapy. These include echocardiograms before and after treatment to monitor any possible abnormalities, as well as changes to medications such as statins and blood pressure drugs. Physical activity may also decrease the risk of heart injuries related to breast cancer treatment. (Locked) More »

Understanding COPD from a cardiovascular perspective

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) includes damage to the air sacs of the lungs (emphysema) and inflammation in the lung’s airways (bronchitis). Some of the symptoms of COPD, such as trouble breathing, fatigue, and chest tightness during physical activity, may be mistakenly attributed to heart disease. Smoking increases the risk of both heart disease and COPD. Current or former smokers should consider getting tested for COPD with a simple lung function test known as spirometry. More »

Vegetable of the month: Red cabbage

Red cabbage, which is high in vitamin C but low in calories, gets its brilliant color from anthocyanins. These plant chemicals are associated with a lower risk of heart disease. More »

What's that chest pain?

The big fear about chest pain is that it’s the result of a heart attack. Symptoms can include pressure or squeezing in the chest, lightheadedness, and pain in the shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, or back. However, chest pain can have any number of causes, such as heartburn, a panic attack, an overuse injury that inflames the chest wall, or a lung condition. Chest pain that is sudden or severe warrants a call to 911. If it’s been going on for months, it’s probably okay to be evaluated at a doctor’s office instead of the emergency department. (Locked) More »