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

Updated advice for people with heart valve disease

More people who need a new heart valve can have a less invasive procedure instead of surgery, according to updated guidelines from the American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association. Most valve replacements are in people with a stiff, thickened aortic valve. The less invasive procedure, transcatheter aortic valve replacement, or TAVR, was initially approved only for people who were too weak or frail to undergo surgery. Today, many people ages 65 and older who meet certain criteria can have TAVR. (Locked) More »

Why nuts may be good for your heart

Eating a serving of nuts at least twice a week is linked to a lower risk of dying of cardiovascular disease. Improved cholesterol and blood sugar levels seen among nut eaters may account for part of this benefit. More »

A little-known factor that boosts heart attack risk

About 20% of people have high levels of lipoprotein(a), or Lp(a), a fatty particle linked to premature heart disease. People who should consider getting an Lp(a) test include those with a family history of early heart disease; people with heart disease who have normal (untreated) levels of LDL, HDL, and triglycerides; and close relatives of people with high Lp(a). Studies of new drugs to lower Lp(a) are under way, with results expected in a few years. (Locked) More »

Choosing a home exercise machine

Home exercise machines such as treadmills, elliptical machines, stationary bikes, and rowing machines can make it easier to get regular, heart-protecting, aerobic exercise. Certain machines may be more appropriate for different people, depending on their history of joint or muscle trouble or other health problems. For those with knee or hip arthritis or balance issues, a stationary bike may be best, while treadmills and elliptical machines are best for people concerned about preventing osteoporosis. More »

Fears about statin side effects: Often unfounded?

Statins appear to have a strong nocebo effect, which occurs when people experience negative effects from a drug, placebo, or other treatment based on an expectation of harm. The true incidence of muscle aches from statins is likely less than 10%. The statin may be causing the problem if the ache or pain begins within a month of starting the drug; is symmetrical (affects both sides of the body), and is unexplained by other possible causes, such as a new exercise regimen or an injury. (Locked) More »

Fruit of the month: Dried fruits

Dried fruits such as raisins, dates, and figs are good sources of potassium, fiber, and other nutrients. A serving size of these calorie-dense treats is just a quarter-cup. More »

Why junk food diets may raise heart disease risk

Eating foods such as red meat and sugary treats may trigger inflammation, raising a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease. But a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and other anti-inflammatory foods reduces the risk. Inflammation is marked by the release of cytokines into the bloodstream. These attract immune cells in artery walls, contributing to the development of plaque. Transitioning to a less inflammatory diet can be challenging because many processed foods (such as salty, sweet, and fatty snacks) are designed to promote overconsumption. (Locked) More »