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

Avoiding atherosclerosis: The killer you can't see

Following healthy lifestyle habits is the foundation for atherosclerosis risk reduction. Such habits include eating a healthy diet, exercising, quitting smoking, and controlling underlying conditions such as high blood pressure. People who are at increased risk for cardiovascular disease or who have already had a heart attack, stroke, or the diagnosis of angina or peripheral artery disease may need to take a medication called a statin to try to fend off cholesterol buildup in the arteries and shrink plaques. (Locked) More »

Lead and heart disease: An underappreciated link?

According to a growing body of evidence, the presence of even a small amount of lead in a person's blood may raise the risk of heart disease. Studies have found that increases in blood pressure are associated with higher bone lead levels, and it may also raise LDL cholesterol and contribute to blood clots. Public health initiatives have resulted in a reduction in exposure, but lead remains present in our lives. (Locked) More »

The danger of “silent” heart attacks

Most people don’t realize that they could have a heart attack without even knowing it. Although these are known as “silent” heart attacks, a more accurate term may be “unrecognized” heart attack: people have symptoms but do not recognize them as coming from their heart. In the long run, these unrecognized heart attacks might be just as dangerous as recognized heart attacks. (Locked) More »

Updated exercise guidelines showcase the benefits to your heart and beyond

The 2018 exercise guidelines say that even short bouts of activity lasting just a few minutes can count toward the recommended goal of 150 minutes of moderate activity per week. The steepest drop in heart disease risk occurs at the lowest, initial levels of activity. In addition, a single bout of exercise seems to confer immediate benefits in four factors linked to heart health, including blood pressure, anxiety, insulin sensitivity, and sleep. More »

Recovering from heart surgery

Open-heart surgery leaves people with a long chest incision and a lengthy recovery. Most of the precautions people must follow during the first four to six weeks after surgery are to allow the breastbone to heal. For example, people should not drive, nor should they push, pull, or lift anything heavier than 10 pounds. They should also learn to use their legs rather than their arms to push up to standing from a chair or bed. Getting out of the house and walking every day, gradually going a little farther each day, is encouraged. (Locked) More »