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

The sweet danger of sugar

Americans consume way too much added sugar—estimates suggest an average of 24 teaspoons per day—which can have a serious impact on heart health. Consuming natural sugar is better, as plant foods also have high amounts of fiber, essential minerals, and antioxidants. But even so called healthy carbs can have added sugar—extra amounts that food manufacturers add to products to increase flavor and extend shelf life. (Locked) More »

When heart attacks go unrecognized

Nearly half of all heart attacks are “silent,” meaning the person doesn’t realize it at the time. One reason may be a higher-than-average pain tolerance. People with diabetes might be less sensitive to pain because the disease can deaden nerves. However, failure to recognize atypical heart attack symptoms is a more likely explanation. Nonclassic symptoms include shortness of breath, weakness, nausea or vomiting, and unexplained fatigue. (Locked) More »

Why middle-age spread is a health threat

Visceral fat — the padding around the abdominal organs — produces hormones and other molecules that promote inflammation, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis. Aerobic exercise and avoiding simple sugars can help reduce visceral fat. (Locked) More »

A win for weekend warriors?

People who meet their weekly exercise recommendations in just one or two days a week—so-called weekend warriors—may be less likely to die from cardiovascular disease than people who are inactive. National physical activity guidelines advise adults to do at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity, or 75 minutes a week at vigorous intensity, or an equivalent combination of the two. People may find twice-weekly bouts of exercise easier to schedule. But daily exercise can prevent joint stiffness and may be less likely to lead to an injury. (Locked) More »

Aspirin advice: Coated vs. plain

Designed to dissolve in the intestines, enteric-coated aspirin may be less likely to cause stomach irritation. But it is just as likely to cause gastrointestinal bleeding as regular aspirin, and some people might not fully absorb enteric-coated aspirin. More »

Cracking the coconut craze

Coconut oil has been touted as a healthy food choice, specifically for the heart. But because of its high saturated fat content, coconut oil tends to raise cholesterol levels, perhaps making it a less than ideal choice for people who want to avoid heart disease. Coconut oil tends to raise beneficial HDL cholesterol more than other fats do, possibly because it is rich in lauric acid, a fatty acid that’s processed slightly differently by the body than other saturated fats. Also, some evidence suggests that coconut oil may not raise total cholesterol as much as butter does. But there is no good evidence that consuming coconut oil can lower heart disease risk. (Locked) More »

Your blood pressure goal: A personalized balancing act

Blood pressure experts are divided about when to start drug therapy for high blood pressure and how aggressive the treatment should be. A target that is lower than the current recommended guideline of 140 mm Hg for the first number (systolic blood pressure) may further lower the risk of heart attack and stroke but cause more side effects. A target above 140 mm Hg may make sense for people ages 60 and older who are otherwise healthy. A personalized treatment approach that considers a person’s age, risk factors, and other health conditions is the best strategy. (Locked) More »

The case for measuring fitness

Solid evidence links a sedentary lifestyle to higher risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and early death. However, doctors do not routinely assess their patients’ cardiorespiratory fitness to help them reduce risk. That may soon change. Experts are now calling for cardiorespiratory fitness level to be considered a vital sign and included as part of the patient’s annual check-up. (Locked) More »