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

Sugar’s not-so-sweet effects on the heart

A sugary diet contributes to weight gain and other factors that boost heart disease risk, including inflammation, disrupted blood sugar control, and increased cholesterol. The typical American diet is very high in added sugar, nearly half of which comes from sugar-sweetened beverages. Another 30% comes from baked goods such as cookies, brownies, cakes, pies, doughnuts, sweet rolls, and pastries. People don’t need to completely give up sweet treats but should enjoy them just once or twice a week rather than daily. (Locked) More »

Treatments for a stiff, narrow aortic valve

There are a number of treatments for a stiff, narrow aortic valve. They include open heart surgery to replace the defective valve, a transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) to replace the valve, or medicine. Doctors say surgery or TAVR are equally good choices. TAVR is less invasive than surgery and appears to work as well as surgery in both the short and long term. Medicines alone, while an attractive option, may be the worst choice. (Locked) More »

Can stronger muscles pump up your heart health?

Just like aerobic exercise, targeted exercises to strengthen muscles throughout your body may also help stave off heart disease. Strength training helps burn calories and may help prevent harmful belly fat accumulation. Muscle tissue is more metabolically active, so it helps control blood sugar and lowers insulin resistance. That helps prevent type 2 diabetes, a major risk factor for heart disease. Strength training can be done with resistance bands, small hand weights, or weight machines. More »

Heart tests before surgery: When are they necessary?

A preoperative evaluation (sometimes called "clearance" for surgery) helps assess a person’s chances of experiencing a heart-related problem during surgery. These check-ups typically involve a physical exam and may include blood tests, x-rays, and an electrocardiogram (ECG). Some major surgeries, such as a hip replacement, can tax the cardiovascular system, possibly uncovering previously undiagnosed heart disease. Other minor, low-risk procedures, such as cataract removal, put very little strain on the heart and usually don’t require a preoperative ECG. (Locked) More »

How accurate are wearable heart rate monitors?

Smart watches and wrist-worn fitness trackers that estimate a person’s heart rate appear to be reliable in people with a range of different skin tones. But their accuracy may vary during different types of everyday activities. More »

Seed of the month: Sunflower

Sunflower seeds are a good source of vitamin E and several minerals. Hulled, roasted, unsalted sunflower seeds can be added to soups, salads, and trail mixes. More »

Taking heart medications? Don’t forgo healthy habits

People who take drugs to lower blood pressure and cholesterol still need to exercise regularly and strive for a healthy body weight to avoid heart disease. But many may let those healthy habits slide after starting prescription heart medications. More »

Understanding sudden cardiac arrest

Coronary artery disease is the underlying cause of most cases of sudden cardiac arrest, which means the heart abruptly and unexpectedly stops beating. Most heart attacks do not lead to cardiac arrest. But sometimes, the heart’s ventricles quiver rapidly and irregularly during a heart attack, and this lethal rhythm causes most sudden cardiac arrests. Heart attack survivors who experienced significant muscle damage are also at risk for cardiac arrest. Other possible causes of cardiac arrest include inherited abnormalities of the heart’s electrical pathways or structural changes in the heart, such as those caused by heart muscle disease (cardiomyopathy). (Locked) More »

What does an enlarged atrium mean?

An enlarged left atrium can be caused by elevated pressure or a higher-than-normal blood volume in the left atrium. Possible underlying causes include high blood pressure or a problem with the mitral valve. (Locked) More »