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

Dietary supplements: Dubious value, hidden dangers

Americans spend nearly $37 billion annually on dietary supplements. But they are not subject to the same regulations governing the quality and safety of prescription drugs, and most lack evidence of health benefits Many large clinical trials demonstrate that fish oil supplements do not prevent heart disease in healthy people. But these products can still include “may support heart health” claims on their labels. Other types of supplements include widely variable amounts of active ingredients, while others may contain a potentially harmful heart stimulant. More »

High calcium score: What’s next?

Otherwise healthy people who have a high score on a coronary artery calcium scan do not need an angiogram to confirm the findings. Instead, they should focus on lowering their cholesterol levels and other heart disease risk factors. (Locked) More »

Heartburn vs. heart attack

Heartburn, a common symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease, causes a painful sensation in the middle of the chest that is often mistaken for a heart attack. Drugs to treat these common problems are often taken together intentionally. The widely used heartburn drugs known as proton-pump inhibitors may help reduce gastrointestinal bleeding—a possible side effect of aspirin, which is sometimes taken to prevent heart attacks. More »

Strategies for sleep apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea, which often causes loud snoring and daytime sleepiness, is closely linked to cardiovascular problems. The gold standard treatment, called positive airway pressure, can be challenging for people to use. Tips for using the bedside machine may help people use the treatment more consistently. These include making sure the mask fits properly and treating nose, mouth, or throat discomfort caused by the treatment. (Locked) More »

What to expect during an exercise stress test

Exercise stress tests, also known as treadmill tests, are done mainly in people with symptoms suggestive of heart disease. That usually means stable angina, or chest pain that occurs in predictable patterns during physical activity. The test uses an electrocardiogram to record the heart’s electrical activity while a person walks on a treadmill that gradually increases in speed and incline. Changes to the ECG can signify blood flow abnormalities caused by blockages in the heart’s arteries or other problems in the heart. (Locked) More »