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

Sex differences in heart disease: A closer look

Heart attack symptoms tend to be pretty similar among both sexes. However, chest pain and sweating are slightly more common in men, while nausea and vomiting and shortness of breath tend to be more likely to occur in women. Heart attacks that show no evidence of a blockage in a major heart artery (known as myocardial infarction with nonobstructive coronary arteries, or MINOCA) tend to occur more often in women, but about 40% of these unusual heart attacks occur in men. (Locked) More »

Stretching may improve blood vessel health

Doing easy leg stretches may improve flow throughout the body by making the arteries more flexible and able to dilate. Passive stretching could become a new nondrug treatment for improving vascular health. More »

Can taking baths help my heart?

Taking a hot bath may have cardiovascular benefits, according to a March 24, 2020, study in the journal Heart. People who bathed daily in warm or hot water had a lower risk of stroke and other cardiovascular problems than less frequent bathers. (Locked) More »

FDA approves broader use of clot-prevention drug

Ticagrelor (Brilinta), a drug that prevents dangerous blood clots, was granted an expanded approval by the FDA. Doctors can now prescribe the drug in people at high risk of a heart attack as well as those who have already had one. More »

Lowering blood pressure may help prevent dementia

Even slightly elevated blood pressure in middle age has been linked to a 30% higher risk of dementia two decades later. High blood pressure accelerates atherosclerosis and leaves people prone to an ischemic stroke, which may contribute to vascular dementia. But high blood pressure can also cause the walls of smaller arteries to thicken, raising the risk of hemorrhagic stroke. Minor strokes in smaller vessels may go unnoticed, but the damage from many small, silent stokes may accumulate, leading to cognitive problems. Taking blood pressure drugs may help people avoid these risks. More »

New advice about a common heart variation: Patent foramen ovale (PFO)

About 25% of people have a patent foramen ovale or PFO, a flaplike opening between the heart’s upper chambers. Most people never know they have it, because a PFO doesn’t cause any signs or symptoms. For the most part, the condition is harmless. But it may allow small amounts of blood to leak across the heart from the right atrium to the left atrium without getting filtered by the lungs. PFOs may be responsible for up to 10% of strokes among people younger than 60. Guidelines now recommend a procedure to close a PFO for young stroke survivors with no other obvious risk factors for stroke. (Locked) More »

Racquet sports: A good way to ramp up your fitness

Playing tennis and other racquet sports can be a fun, effective way to improve fitness. Tennis engages muscles throughout your upper and lower body, which challenges the heart. The sport also features short bursts of high-intensity activity interspersed with less vigorous movements. This type of exercise, known as high-intensity interval training, seems to be a good way to boost cardiovascular fitness. Pickleball and badminton, which are less physically demanding than tennis, may be a good option for people who are older or less fit. Racquet sports have been linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and a longer life. (Locked) More »