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

Choosing and using a home blood pressure monitor

Using a home blood pressure monitor can help people manage their condition more effectively, especially if they are taking several different drugs while trying to reach their blood pressure target. When choosing a monitor, people should select one with a well-fitting, self-inflating cuff that goes around the upper arm and a digital readout that’s easy to read. Some monitors feature a cord that plugs into a smartphone; others can transfer their data wirelessly to a smartphone or computer. The blood pressure readings can then be transmitted to physicians. (Locked) More »

Meditation may help lower heart disease risk

Meditation may have a role in reducing the risk of heart disease. The mind-calming practice may improve factors known to worsen heart disease, including stress, anxiety, depression, poor sleep quality, and high blood pressure. More »

When you look for cancer, you might find heart disease

Screening tests for lung and breast cancer—chest computed tomography (CT) scans and mammograms—may offer clues about a person’s risk of heart disease. Chest CT scans, which are also done to detect blood clots in the lungs and for other lung diseases, can show calcium deposits in the heart’s arteries. Mammograms can show calcium in the breast arteries, which is closely linked to calcium in the coronary arteries. Calcium accumulates in artery walls, along with fat, cholesterol, and other substances to form plaque. Plaque narrows and hardens arteries, eventually leading to blockages that can trigger heart attacks. (Locked) More »

Midlife heart health shows a link with future risk of dementia

People who have high blood pressure and diabetes and who smoke during middle age have a higher risk of heart attack and stroke. These vascular (blood vessel) risk factors may leave them more prone to dementia 25 years later. Having diabetes in middle age may be almost as risky as having the gene variant known as APOE4, which is associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. Even slightly elevated blood pressure during midlife may be associated with dementia in later life. (Locked) More »

Overweight vs overfat: Is your scale lying to you?

For decades, the body mass index (BMI) has been the gold standard for gauging obesity-related heart disease risk, but this tool doesn’t always tell the whole story. BMI extrapolates a person’s the percentage of body fat from height and weight. But BMI misclassifies nearly 50% of normal-weight people who have higher heart disease risk from unhealthy distribution of body fat, meaning that a person can be overfat even without being overweight. More »

Should you stop anti-clotting drugs before a procedure?

Millions of people with heart disease take anti-clotting drugs to lower the risk of a blood clot in the leg, lung, or brain. But these lifesaving drugs require careful management if a person using them needs an invasive procedure. Any surgery or other procedure in which a doctor uses an instrument to enter the body poses a risk of bleeding. This risk is greater among people taking anti-clotting drugs. But stopping the drug is also risky, as this increases the risk of a clot. People taking anti-clotting drugs should be sure to have their prescribing doctor speak to the doctor performing the procedure. They may need to temporarily stop taking the clot-preventing drug. (Locked) More »

Weighing the risks and benefits of aspirin therapy

Aspirin therapy is typically prescribed to people who have atherosclerosis of the arteries of the heart or brain, or risk factors for such disease. Just who should take a daily aspirin, how much aspirin, and what type of aspirin are hotly debated issues. As a preventive therapy, aspirin may be prescribed for people who don’t have evidence of cardiovascular disease but do have one or more risk factors, such as high cholesterol or diabetes. However, that is also debated. (Locked) More »