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

Air pollution: A threat to your heart and longevity?

Air pollution can trigger heart attacks, strokes, and irregular heart rhythms, especially in people who already have or who are at risk for heart disease. Tiny particles (known as PM2.5) spewed from power plants, factories, and vehicles seem to be the most dangerous to health. These particles pass thought the lungs into the circulation, activating immune cells involved with the creation of artery-clogging plaque inside arteries. To limit air pollution exposure, people should avoid exercising outdoors near busy roads and industrial areas. (Locked) More »

What is vasculitis?

Vasculitis, which means inflammation of blood vessels, can affect vessels that supply one part of the body or many different organs. The cause is often undetermined, but it may result from an autoimmune response. (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 »