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

A different type of heart attack

A small percentage of heart attacks result from a tear in the inner wall of one of the heart’s arteries. Called spontaneous coronary artery dissection or SCAD, it’s the most common reason for acute coronary syndrome in women under 50. Expanded awareness of heart disease in women and improved diagnostic tools have increased recognition of SCAD. The typical person with SCAD is a middle-aged, healthy woman with few or none of the classic risk factors for heart disease, such as diabetes and high cholesterol. While the exact cause isn’t entirely clear, most people with SCAD have some sort of abnormality in the blood vessels outside the heart, including a rare condition called fibromuscular dysplasia. (Locked) More »

Get FITT to better fight heart disease

People who have been diagnosed with heart disease or are at high risk should adopt a regular aerobic exercise routine to help fight many of the disease’s risk factors, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and excess weight. A formula known as FITT—for frequency, intensity, time, and type—offers a guide to putting together a routine that will keep a person motivated and provide the best heart-pumping workout possible. (Locked) More »

Gut check: How the microbiome may mediate heart health

The trillions of bacteria in a person’s intestines, called the gut microbiota, may mediate some of the risk factors that affect cardiovascular health. Some bacteria break down cholesterol. Others create compounds that regulate blood pressure, affect hormones involved in diabetes, and dampen inflammation. But the feasibility of changing a person’s microbiome remains unclear, which means any potential microbiome-based therapies for heart disease are still years away. More »

The beat goes on

Exercise can help lower a person’s resting heart rate, which ranges between 60 and 100 beats per minute for most adults. But using an estimated target heart rate to gauge exercise intensity is not necessarily reliable. Instead of trying to reach an arbitrary number, people should exercise based on their perceived effort. Another metric to consider checking is heart rate recovery, which assesses how quickly the heart rate drops or recovers after intense exercise. (Locked) More »

Can a smart watch diagnose a heart attack?

ECG readings taken with a smart watch may be just as accurate as a traditional ECG done in a medical setting. But the notion of using a smart watch to diagnose a heart attack is still years away. One main reason: obtaining an ECG with a smart watch requires carefully holding the back of the watch on the wrist and at eight specific locations on the chest and abdomen. Quality control and regulatory issues are other important hurdles that need to be addressed. But experts believe improved smart watches with enhanced diagnostic ability may be on the market within a decade. More »

Cooking from — and for — the heart this holiday season

Preparing lighter or alternative versions of foods and drinks traditionally served during the December holidays may help curb year-end weight gain. Examples include baked latkes made with added vegetables (such as zucchini, cauliflower, or beets) and nonalcoholic cocktails make with sparkling water, a splash or fruit juice, and fresh fruit. (Locked) More »

Fish oil drug helps shrink plaque in heart arteries

A drug made from a highly purified form of EPA (an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish) appears to help reduce plaque in the heart’s arteries. This may explain why the drug, icosapent ethyl (Vascepa), helps lower the risk of heart attack and stroke. More »

When you take these popular pain relievers, proceed with caution

Over-the-counter and prescription drugs known as NSAIDs pose a risk to the cardiovascular system. They include over-the-counter drugs such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and prescription drugs such as celecoxib (Celebrex). NSAIDs can cause the kidneys to hold on to salt and water, which tends to raise blood pressure. They also appear to affect the inner linings of blood vessels and alter other blood substances in a manner that promotes blood clots. People who need these pain-relieving medications should take the smallest dose for the shortest possible period of time. (Locked) More »