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

Does loneliness play a role in cardiovascular problems?

Many older adults are at risk for social isolation because they’re divorced or have lost a partner. But loneliness may slightly raise the risk of heart attack and stroke, perhaps by increasing stress hormones that can harm the cardiovascular system. One explanation for this phenomenon is that solitary people don’t have anyone to help them manage stress and cope with difficult situations. Ways to increase social connectivity include signing up for a class, joining a group (such as a book club), or volunteering. More »

Duration of atrial fibrillation and risk of stroke

Even intermittent (paroxysmal) atrial fibrillation may increase a person’s risk of stroke. Measuring afib burden (the amount of time spent in afib) may help doctors to better assess a person’s need for stroke prevention strategies. More »

Eggs might help your heart, not harm it

A study found that people with diabetes or prediabetes who ate 12 eggs a week saw no increase in their cardiovascular risk factors compared with those who ate two eggs or fewer. Another study found that people who ate an egg per day had a lower risk of heart disease compared with those who did not eat any eggs. More »

Exercise: Better starting later than never

Exercising regularly throughout life is the best way to preserve heart health. But starting to exercise even in late middle age may lessen the risk of heart failure, a condition in which the heart can’t pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. More »

Facts about alcohol and heart health

The evidence linking alcohol with greater heart health benefits continues to evolve. Most research suggests that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol— about one drink per day—can raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels. However, drinking much more than this can have a damaging effect and raise a person’s risk of heart attack, stroke, and early death. The advice, then, is to keep alcohol intake to moderate levels and avoid excessive drinking. More »

Getting the most out of your heart medications

Medications used to treat cardiovascular disease can help prevent life-threatening events, so people should make sure they’re taking them correctly. Understanding the reasons behind specific prescribing instructions may help. Examples include finding the best the timing for blood pressure medications, taking medications with food, and avoiding or minimizing alcohol use while taking certain medications. More »

Radiation from heart imaging: What you need to know

Some tests to diagnose heart disease involve small amounts of radiation, and these tests are being used with increasing frequency. Examples include coronary artery calcium scans, computed tomography angiography, and nuclear stress tests. But the theoretical increased risk of cancer from these tests is minimal, especially considering that radiation-induced cancers don’t occur for decades. More »

The importance of bystander CPR

CPR can keep a person experiencing a cardiac arrest alive until paramedics can arrive. Traditional CPR involves chest compression to manually keep the heart pumping, and also mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to provide oxygen to the person in cardiac arrest. Bystander CPR involves only the chest compressions. They’re both important, but when cardiac arrest occurs, there’s already some oxygen in the blood. Doctors say it’s much more important to immediately pump that blood to the brain than spend extra time trying to give the patient more oxygen. More »