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

Does “cough CPR” work?

A Facebook post suggests that coughing during a heart attack can help a person to survive. This practice, mislabeled as “cough CPR,” is not a form of traditional cardiopulmonary resuscitation. (Locked) More »

Reading the new blood pressure guidelines

New guidelines now define high blood pressure for all adults as 130/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) or higher. Lowering the threshold for treatment was found to give greater protection against heart attacks and strokes. This means 70% to 79% of men ages 55 and older are now classified as having high blood pressure. The recommendations can help men be more mindful about their blood pressure and more active about keeping it low. More »

The wholesome goodness of grains

People who eat about four servings of whole grains per day may be less likely to die from heart disease than those who eat few or no whole grains. Whole grains contain fiber, which helps people feel full and may lower cholesterol, and also contain magnesium, which may help lower blood pressure. Good sources include whole-wheat bread, ready-to-eat cereals made from oats or other whole grains, brown rice, and barley. (Locked) More »

Zap away atrial fibrillation?

Recent guidelines for treating atrial fibrillation have shifted a procedure called catheter ablation more to the forefront of therapy choices. It uses a thin, flexible tube to zap faulty electrical pathways in the heart. Catheter ablation is an option for people with intermittent or persistent atrial fibrillation who have troubling symptoms that aren’t relieved by medication. Symptoms can include a fluttering or thumping sensation in the chest, breathlessness, dizziness, anxiety, weakness, fainting, confusion, and fatigue. (Locked) More »

Gum disease and heart disease: The common thread

People with gum disease (also known as periodontal disease) have two to three times the risk of having a heart attack, stroke, or other serious cardiovascular event. Both conditions involve chronic inflammation, which contributes to many health problems. The connection suggests another reason why people should be vigilant about preventing gum disease, which is characterized by swollen, red, or tender gums that bleed easily. Daily toothbrushing and flossing can prevent and even reverse early signs of gum disease, known as gingivitis. (Locked) More »

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 »