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

E-cigarettes boost the risk of heart attack

Daily use of electronic cigarettes may nearly double a person’s risk of a heart attack. Using these products in addition to regular cigarettes (which is a common use pattern) may increase the risk of heart attack fivefold. More »

Home cooking for better heart health

Preparing home-cooked, plant-based meals is simpler than most people realize. A simple recipe formula features legumes (such as lentils or beans) combined with cooked whole grains (such as bulgur wheat or brown rice) and raw or cooked vegetables, served hot, warm, or cold. To save time, people can prepare large amounts of dried beans and whole grains. Flavor enhancers include olive oil, lemon juice, and dried or fresh fruits, as well as spices and fresh herbs. (Locked) More »

Legume of the month

To cook dried beans, soak beans overnight in cold water, drain and rinse, then cook in fresh water until tender. Preparing large batches of a pound or so and freezing recipe-sized containers of cooked beans can simplify dinner preparations. More »

Monitoring a narrowed, stiff aortic valve

For people with moderate to severe aortic valve stenosis who have no symptoms, deciding when to replace the faulty valve has been unclear. But a watchful waiting approach appears to be safe for most people. More »

Taming stubbornly high blood pressure

As many as one in seven people being treated for high blood pressure doesn’t have the condition under control. Many cases of this problem, known as resistant hypertension, occur because people don’t take their medications as directed, usually because of side effects. Sometimes, habits such as consuming too much sodium, which counteracts the effects of certain blood pressure drugs, are to blame. In other cases, other medical problems such as renal artery stenosis or obstructive sleep apnea may contribute to the problem. More »

What is sick sinus syndrome?

Sick sinus syndrome refers to various heartbeat irregularities that can cause fainting, weakness, palpitations, or shortness of breath. Most cases are due to age-related changes in the heart muscle that disrupt the heart’s electrical system. (Locked) More »

Take the plunge: Try a water workout

Swimming and water aerobics can be a good way to stay fit, especially for people who have arthritis, are overweight, or are recovering from an injury. Swimming differs from land-based exercises because during swimming, a person’s body is horizontal rather than vertical and is mostly immersed in water. Both factors mean blood pools less in the legs. The heart refills with blood a little faster, which means it may work a little harder during swimming than during other forms of exercise. Yet swimming is considered safe for people with stable heart disease and is sometimes used in cardiac rehabilitation. (Locked) More »