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

Tracing the heart’s electrical signature

An electrocardiogram (ECG) is a quick, painless, noninvasive test that can help diagnose dozens of heart conditions. For people who are 50 or older, getting an ECG as part of an annual physical exam makes sense, according to some cardiologists. The test records the heart’s electrical activity through 10 small electrodes placed on the chest, arms, and legs. The resulting squiggly lines represent the electrical impulses in the heart that activate the heart muscle and its blood-pumping action. An ECG may reveal damage from a previously undetected heart attack, abnormalities in heart rhythm, or an enlarged heart. (Locked) More »

5 overlooked symptoms that may signal heart trouble

Pain in the chest sometimes is a symptom of heart disease. But heart problems aren’t always obvious. Fatigue, unexplained aches and pains, shortness of breath, swollen feet or ankles, and heart palpitations may also indicate heart trouble. Consult a doctor about symptoms that start with activity and are relieved with rest; if several of these symptoms occur at one time; or if they occur in someone with heart disease or factors that raise the risk for it (like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or smoking). (Locked) More »

Concerns about swollen legs

One common cause of swollen legs is venous insufficiency, which results from faulty valves in the deep veins of the legs. Less common but more serious causes include heart failure and (when in only one leg) deep-vein thrombosis. (Locked) More »

Dog owners: Less heart disease and longer life?

People (especially those who live alone) who own dogs may be less likely to die from heart disease than those without dogs. Dogs may ease stress and inspire people to be more active and socially connected—all things that seem to foster heart health. More »

Opening up arteries to treat stable angina: Just a sham?

Chest pain occurring with physical activity or emotional stress that quickly goes away with rest is known as stable angina. Treatments include medications (including drugs such as beta blockers and nitrates) or an artery-opening procedure known as angioplasty with a stent. Although a study suggested that a stent was no better than a sham procedure for stable angina, experts say the trial was too short and too small to conclude that stents don’t work for stable angina. (Locked) More »

Tai chi: A kinder, gentler approach to cardiac rehab?

Tai chi is a gentle exercise that involves a series of flowing movements and breath awareness. It may be a good alternative for people who decline to participate in cardiac rehabilitation, particularly if they think the exercise aspect of rehab will be too tiring or difficult. Tai chi is less physically demanding than many other forms of exercise and may also help lower stress. Regular practice may also modestly lower blood pressure and benefit people with heart failure, who tend to be tired and weak as a result of the heart’s diminished pumping ability. More »

The new blood pressure guidelines: Messages you may have missed

The recently updated blood pressure guidelines lowered the threshold for diagnosing the condition, down to 130/80 mg Hg from 140/90 mm Hg. Nearly half of all Americans now have high blood pressure. People with elevated blood pressure (readings that fall between 120/80 and 130/80 mm Hg) should focus on diet and exercise changes to help lower their values. Those with a reading of 130/80 and higher may also need medications if they have a high risk of heart disease. (Locked) More »

To eat less salt, enjoy the spice of life

People who like spicy foods appear to eat less salt and have lower blood pressure than people who prefer less-spicy foods. Adding even small amounts of spice to food may help people eat less salt, which may benefit their health. More »