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

What is diastolic dysfunction?

Diastolic dysfunction means the heart’s main pumping chambers, the ventricles, are stiff and unable to relax normally. It may lead to heart failure with preserved ejection fraction, which can cause breathing problems and swelling in the feet and legs. (Locked) More »

Fiber: The carb you can count on for heart health

Diets that provide plenty of fiber (about 25 to 29 grams per day) may reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke by as much as 30%. Consuming whole grains such as whole wheat and oatmeal seems to offer the most heart-protecting benefits. One reason for this benefit may be that people may substitute whole-grain foods for less-healthy refined grains, such as white rice and white bread, which raise blood sugar and have other harmful metabolic effects. More »

How do race and ethnicity affect heart risk?

In the United States, certain racial and ethnic groups face a higher risk of dying from heart disease than others, with the highest risk among blacks. Non-Hispanic whites are second, with the lowest risk seen among Hispanics. Genetic variations that affect blood pressure and distribution of body fat may explain some differences, and smoking rates may also play a role. But non-genetic factors, such as access to healthy food and safe places to exercise, likely also affect a person’s risk. (Locked) More »

Legume of the month: Lentils

Lentils, which come in an array of colors including yellow, red, green, brown, and black, are a good source of plant-based micronutrients known as polyphenols that are thought to help protect against cardiovascular disease. More »

Lessons from the blood pressure drug recall

In the summer of 2018, a number of blood pressure medications containing generic valsartan, losartan, and irbesartan were recalled after investigators discovered trace amounts of possible cancer-causing impurities in some of the products. The risk to consumers who took these drugs is very low. The FDA estimates that if 8,000 people took the highest valsartan dose, which is 320 milligrams, from recalled batches every day for four years, there would likely be one additional case of cancer over the lifetimes of those 8,000 people. People who take prescription medications should pay close attention to news alerts about drug recalls and check the FDA’s online list of recalled drugs for additional information. (Locked) More »

Put your heart in the right place

Cardiac rehab provides supervised exercise and teaches the fundamentals of a heart-healthy lifestyle to people who have had heart surgery or another cardiac event. During the program, which usually involves three sessions per week over a three-month period, participants get an individualized treatment plan with goals for their blood pressure, blood sugar, heart rate, and weight (and smoking cessation, if needed). Cardiac rehab not only lowers the risk of dying of heart disease by about 24%, it also improves exercise ability and quality of life. (Locked) More »