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

New hope for an unusual form of heart failure

Long summary: Up to 15% of people with a stiff, thickened heart (known as heart failure with preserved ejection fraction) may have cardiac amyloidosis. Advances in cardiac imaging have improved the ability to diagnose the condition, which is caused by clumps of an abnormal protein (amyloid) deposited in heart tissue. Most cases are known as ATTR amyloidosis, which has an inherited form and a non-inherited form. Tafamidis (Vyndaqel), the first drug to treat ATTR cardiac amyloidosis, was approved by the FDA last year. (Locked) More »

The high cost of a poor diet

What people choose to eat has a big impact on their cardiovascular health. The dietary habits of the nation as a whole also have a major effect on the country’s economic health. About 45% of the costs associated with heart disease, stroke, and diabetes is related to unhealthy diets. The dietary habits that appear to have the biggest effect are not eating enough nuts, seeds, and seafood omega-3 fatty acids. Among foods to avoid, sugary beverages and processed meats seem to contribute the most to higher costs. Each year, unhealthy diets cost the United States an average of about $300 per person in medical costs, which translates to $50 billion nationwide. (Locked) More »

Can lifestyle changes affect atrial fibrillation?

For moderate to heavy drinkers with atrial fibrillation or afib, drinking less alcohol may help delay the time to a recurrence of the heart rhythm disorder. Alcohol may harm heart muscle cells, which can lead to changes in the heart’s blood flow and electrical activity. Binge drinking can trigger an episode of afib, a phenomenon known as holiday heart syndrome. And longtime heavy drinkers face a heightened risk of cardiomyopathy. (Locked) More »

Checking for an abdominal aortic aneurysm: Who, when, and why?

Guidelines recommend that men ages 65 to 75 who have ever smoked cigarettes be screened for an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA). But other people at high risk might also consider this one-time test. These include older men and women with a family history of AAA and those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or atherosclerotic heart disease. The screening test is simple and painless, and it costs roughly $50, which is fully covered by Medicare for men who meet the guideline criteria, as well as for people ages 65 to 75 with a family history of AAA. (Locked) More »

Looking for a mellow form of exercise? Try tai chi

Tai chi is a slow, flowing form of exercise that’s sometimes described as “meditation in motion.“ It can be a good gateway exercise for people who cannot or will not engage in more conventional types of exercise. Tai chi may help lower cholesterol levels, reduce blood pressure, and dampen inflammation, all of which are linked to better heart health. Tai chi may also be a promising addition to cardiac rehabilitation. More »