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

Deep-vein blood clots: What you need to know

A blood clot that forms in a vein, known as venous thromboembolism (VTE), is the third most common cause of cardiovascular death. Most of these fatalities occur when a clot travels from the leg to the lung, causing a pulmonary embolism. VTE occurs in an estimated one in 1,000 people in the United States every year. Factors that increase a person’s risk of heart disease, such as age, smoking, and being overweight or obese, also raise the risk of VTE. Other contributing factors include recent surgery, hospitalization, injury to a vein, and decreased blood flow, usually caused by immobility. (Locked) More »

How yoga may enhance heart health

Practicing yoga promotes overall physical fitness, but it also includes breathing exercises, relaxation, and meditation. The combined effect of these practices may improve a number of factors connected with cardiovascular health. For example, yoga helps lower blood pressure, improves sleep, and may dampen artery-damaging inflammation. By evoking the “relaxation response,” yoga may encourage emotional resilience, which can help counteract the heart-damaging effects caused by everyday (and largely unavoidable) stress. More »

Muscle aches from statins: Real, but sometimes imagined?

About 10% of people report muscle aches when taking statins. In some cases, other health conditions such as arthritis, obesity, or just aging may be to blame. Doing exercise or yard work can cause muscle aches, which some people mistakenly attribute to statins. Another possible explanation: a phenomenon known as the nocebo effect, in which people experience negative side effects from a drug, placebo, or other treatment based on an expectation of harm. Muscle-related problems associated with statins usually resolve with a lower statin dose or a change to a different statin. (Locked) More »

What happens if my stent stops working?

Complications with stents—the tiny wire-mesh tubes used to prop open blocked arteries—are less common than in the past. When problems occur, possible treatments include medications, re-stenting, or bypass surgery. (Locked) More »

Lessons about brain health from a landmark heart study

The Framingham Heart Study—the longest running and best-known study of the causes of heart disease—has also revealed important clues about brain disorders, including stroke, cognitive decline, and dementia. In addition to linking high blood pressure with a higher risk of stroke, the study has confirmed that atrial fibrillation and an enlarged left ventricle contribute to stroke risk. The multigenerational study has also affirmed the importance of exercise and social connections for staving off cognitive decline. More »

Time-sensitive clues about cardiovascular risk

When a person’s behavior or environment is out of sync with their internal clock, it’s known as circadian misalignment. This phenomenon may explain why heart attack rates rise on Monday mornings and the week after daylight savings time begins. Certain habits such as late-night eating or light exposure into the wee hours can also throw the body’s natural rhythms out of whack, which may affect cardiovascular risk factors. (Locked) More »