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

Anxiety and heart disease: A complex connection

Small amounts of anxiety can spur people to take better care of themselves. But excessive worrying may signal an anxiety disorder, which may increase a person’s risk for heart disease. One common form is generalized anxiety disorder, which is characterized by at least six months of excessive worrying or feeling anxious about several events or activities almost every day. Other people have panic disorder, which is marked by bouts of intense anxiety (panic attacks) that may cause chest pain that is mistaken for a heart attack. Both therapy and medications can effectively treat anxiety disorders. (Locked) More »

Taking a look at the latest trends in heart rhythm monitoring

Bulky external devices with many wires that record a person’s heart rhythm for several days or longer are being replaced by small patches and implanted devices. The patches, which resemble large Band-Aids, are placed on the chest and can record heart activity up to 30 days. Their main role is for people with frequent palpitations. The internal devices, called implantable loop recorders, are inserted under the skin to the left of the breastbone and work for about three years. They are mainly used to help diagnose people with unexplained fainting or strokes. Some of these new devices can transmit data wirelessly in real time to a doctor. (Locked) More »

A salad a day keeps stroke away?

Eating plenty of nitrate-rich vegetables—such as lettuce, spinach, and beets—may lower a person’s risk of dying of a stroke or heart attack. The body converts nitrates into nitric oxide, a compound that lowers blood pressure. More »

Controlling blood pressure with fewer side effects

Taking smaller doses of several different blood pressure drugs may be just as effective as a full dose of a single drug, with fewer side effects. Many people stop taking blood pressure drugs because of unwanted side effects, which might include weakness, fatigue, or a dry cough. This is one reason only about half of people with high blood pressure have the condition under control. More »

Food trends and your heart

The type and amount of fat, carbohydrate, sugar, and salt in our food supply has changed over the years. Some of these trends (such as the banning of harmful trans fatty acids) have been positive. But to date, efforts to reduce sugar and sodium haven’t been as successful. When shopping for processed foods—anything bagged, packaged, canned, or bottled—people should check the Nutrition Facts label. The healthiest choices contain less than 5% of the Daily Value for saturated fat and sodium, and less than 12 grams of sugar per serving. (Locked) More »

Taming high triglycerides without fish oil?

High triglycerides may increase the risk of heart disease. A healthy diet low in saturated fat and refined carbohydrates, plus regular exercise, can help lower these blood fats. Levels higher than 500 mg/dL should generally be treated with medication. (Locked) More »

The genetics of heart disease: An update

Some rare types of heart disease are monogenic, which means they are caused by just one or a few genetic changes that have a very strong effect in causing disease. But most cases of coronary artery disease are polygenenic, which means they are associated with dozens of different gene variants, each of which raises risk by about 10%. Some variants occur in genes not previously suspected to affect cardiovascular risk. This suggests there are other pathways beyond the traditional heart disease risk factors such as cholesterol, blood pressure, and diabetes. (Locked) More »

Walking the dog: Yes, it counts as exercise

Dog owners tend to get more exercise than people who don’t own dogs, and the added activity likely counts toward recommended physical activity goals. Daily dog walks may also help people avoid loneliness and social isolation by fostering connections with neighbors. Walking in a park or another green space may help relieve stress—another contributor to heart disease. Petting a dog and gazing into its eyes may also help lower blood pressure. (Locked) More »