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

Rethinking low-dose aspirin

Because low-dose aspirin helps thwart dangerous blood clots, it remains a cornerstone for heart attack and stroke survivors. But aspirin may do more harm than good for people who’ve never experienced a heart-related event. People with diabetes appear to gain heart protection from aspirin, but the risk of bleeding offsets some of that benefit. For who don’t have diabetes—as well as anyone who is 70 years of age or older—aspirin seems to provide no heart benefit. And it increases the odds of dangerous bleeding that requires transfusions or hospitalization. As a result, some people currently taking low-dose aspirin should consider stopping it. (Locked) More »

Taking a multivitamin probably won’t help your heart

Multivitamins don’t reduce cardiovascular risks, according to a new study. And while many people take them to improve or maintain their health, research has not shown that they are beneficial to most people. Certain subgroups, however, may need supplements if they can’t properly absorb nutrients from the foods that they eat. (Locked) More »

The age of statins

The cholesterol-lowering statin drugs can help protect against heart attack or stroke, both for people who have already had one and those who are at high risk for one of these events. But a recent study of 50,000 people age 75 and older found that the drugs did not reduce overall survival or rates of heart attacks and strokes among healthy older adults with no history of heart disease. (Locked) More »

The lowdown on low-calorie sweeteners

An advisory from the American Heart Association says beverages with low-calorie sweeteners are an acceptable way to curb the use of regular sugar-sweetened beverages, which are linked to diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and other risks for heart disease. Short-term studies suggest that replacing regular sugary soda with diet soda helps people control their weight, while longer-term studies are less definitive. But two large, long-running Harvard studies found no increased risk of obesity and diabetes among people who regularly drank beverages with low-calorie sweeteners. (Locked) More »

Understanding ejection fraction

An ejection fraction is the percentage of blood that leaves the heart each time it contracts. The most common way to measure the ejection fraction is with an echocardiogram. A normal value is 55% to 65%. (Locked) More »

Managing mitral valve disease: Progress and promise

Severe mitral valve disease happens when the mitral valve can’t close properly, causing blood to flow backward during heartbeats. Common symptoms include breathlessness, fatigue, cough, and swollen feet or ankles. Most cases are treated with open-heart or minimally invasive surgery. But a catheter-based device called MitraClip can repair some faulty valves. And a number of other devices—including some that can replace the entire valve—are under development. (Locked) More »