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

E-cigarettes boost the risk of heart attack

Daily use of electronic cigarettes may nearly double a person’s risk of a heart attack. Using these products in addition to regular cigarettes (which is a common use pattern) may increase the risk of heart attack fivefold. More »

Home cooking for better heart health

Preparing home-cooked, plant-based meals is simpler than most people realize. A simple recipe formula features legumes (such as lentils or beans) combined with cooked whole grains (such as bulgur wheat or brown rice) and raw or cooked vegetables, served hot, warm, or cold. To save time, people can prepare large amounts of dried beans and whole grains. Flavor enhancers include olive oil, lemon juice, and dried or fresh fruits, as well as spices and fresh herbs. (Locked) More »

What is sick sinus syndrome?

Sick sinus syndrome refers to various heartbeat irregularities that can cause fainting, weakness, palpitations, or shortness of breath. Most cases are due to age-related changes in the heart muscle that disrupt the heart’s electrical system. (Locked) More »

Certain pain relievers could harm your heart

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and naproxen, have been linked to higher cardiovascular risks. A new study seems to confirm the risks of these medications and shows that one particular NSAID, diclofenac (Voltaren), may bring higher risks than other medications in this class. For most people who take these medications for short periods of time, the risks aren’t a major concern, but people who take these drugs long-term and have other heart risk factors should discuss the pros and cons with their doctor. (Locked) More »

Confused about carbs?

Low-carb diets, which swap carbohydrates for protein or fat, have been popular off and on for decades. The long-term cardiovascular effects remain unclear, but the source and amount of proteins and fats (in addition to carbs) also play a role. Diets that include more animal-based protein and fats (such as beef, lamb, pork, chicken, and cheese) instead of carbohydrates have been linked to a greater risk of early death. In contrast, diets that include more plant-based proteins and fats (from vegetables, legumes, and nuts) have been linked to a lower risk. (Locked) More »

Take the plunge: Try a water workout

Swimming and water aerobics can be a good way to stay fit, especially for people who have arthritis, are overweight, or are recovering from an injury. Swimming differs from land-based exercises because during swimming, a person’s body is horizontal rather than vertical and is mostly immersed in water. Both factors mean blood pools less in the legs. The heart refills with blood a little faster, which means it may work a little harder during swimming than during other forms of exercise. Yet swimming is considered safe for people with stable heart disease and is sometimes used in cardiac rehabilitation. (Locked) More »

The head-heart connection: Mental health and heart disease

People with high levels of psychological distress, including symptoms of anxiety and depression, may be more likely to have a heart attack or a stroke. Mood disorders and heart disease may have shared, underlying causes that begin even before birth that are carried throughout life. A fetus exposed to its mother’s immune or inflammatory responses may experience changes that affect specific brain regions that regulate both mood and cardiac function. (Locked) More »

What is “broken-heart syndrome?”

Stress cardiomyopathy—also known as “broken-heart syndrome”—is a reversible heart condition that often mimics a heart attack. First described more than 25 years ago, it is now recognized more often than in the past. It usually results from severe physical or emotional stress, such as a severe medical illness, the death of a family member, or a natural disaster. During an episode, the heart takes on an unusual shape, in which the tip of the left ventricle balloons outward and the base contracts. The heart’s workload increases, leading to symptoms such as chest pain and breathlessness. But the condition usually resolves within a month. (Locked) More »