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

Can your blood pressure be too low?

In people with heart disease, lowering systolic blood pressure (the top number) to 120 mm Hg may also lower diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) to less than 70 mm Hg, which is linked to an increased risk of heart attack, heart failure, and death. More »

Clot prevention with a mechanical heart valve

For people with mechanical heart valves who must take clot-preventing drugs, warfarin is currently the only option. Newer anti-clotting drugs known as NOACs have not been proven safe for people with mechanical valves. (Locked) More »

Fainting: Frightening, but seldom serious

Fainting occurs when something interrupts blood flow to the brain, causing a sudden, temporary loss of consciousness. Although usually harmless, fainting can cause injuries and sometimes signals a problem with the heart or circulatory system. Some faints result from a strong emotion (from getting bad news, for example) or excessive straining or coughing. Older people may faint because of low blood pressure when standing up, known as orthostatic hypotension. Other possible causes include a heart rate that’s either too fast or too slow, which may result from electrical abnormalities in the heart, thyroid problems, or certain medications. (Locked) More »

Tennis, anyone?

People who play tennis a few times a week may lower their chances of dying of heart disease or a stroke compared with inactive people. Tennis provides an upper- and lower-body workout, as well as intermittent, high-intensity activity, both of which are thought to be good for the heart. Tennis playing also has been linked to other factors associated with heart health, including a lower body-fat percentage and more favorable cholesterol levels. Finally, the game encourages mindfulness and strengthens social ties, which may lower stress levels. (Locked) More »

Power up your heart health

With age, much of the body’s muscle is replaced by fat. This shift can raise the risk of cardiovascular disease. Strength exercises increase muscle mass and burn body fat, thus reducing the risk for obesity. This type of workout also helps manage type 2 diabetes by decreasing abdominal fat and improving blood sugar control. In addition, strength training can reduce blood cholesterol levels and blood pressure, which further lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease. (Locked) More »

Putting the brakes on a racing heart

Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) is a rapid heart rhythm caused by an electrical glitch in the upper part of the heart. During an episode, the heart may beat 250 times or more per minute. With a doctor’s approval, people with long-lasting SVT episodes can try coughing, gagging, or other special maneuvers that sometimes help slow down the heart. Some people with frequent, bothersome episodes take medication or opt for catheter ablation. This procedure detects and destroys the area of tissue causing the problem, using instruments passed through a leg vein up to the heart. (Locked) More »

Recognizing the most common warning signs of a stroke

The most common symptoms of a stroke—Facial drooping, Arm weakness, and Speech difficulty—are included in the mnemonic “FAST” (the “T” stands for Time to call 911). Balance problems may also occur, but this is less common and often accompanied by other symptoms, such as leg heaviness or trouble seeing. Visual problems can include blurred vision, double vision, or trouble focusing. Rapid recognition of these signs and prompt treatment can prevent a potentially devastating disability or death due to a stroke. More »