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

Managing atrial fibrillation: An update

New guidelines for managing atrial fibrillation (afib) now advise most people to take novel oral anticoagulant drugs rather than warfarin to prevent a stroke. Aspirin is no longer recommended for stroke prevention for afib. Another change highlights the benefits of weight loss, which can reduce afib episodes and keep the condition from worsening. The guidelines also more strongly recommend a procedure called ablation (which destroys faulty electric pathways in the heart) for people with afib symptoms who also have systolic heart failure. (Locked) More »

Ministroke: A warning sign of a major problem

Short-lived but odd symptoms—such as one-sided weakness, trouble seeing, or problems speaking—may be symptoms of a transient ischemic attack (TIA), also known as a ministroke. Caused by a temporary lack of blood in the brain, a TIA is a warning sign for a future stroke. About 15% of people with TIAs go on to have a stroke in the next three months, with half occurring in the first two days. People with TIA symptoms should call 911 for an urgent medical evaluation, as doctors may be able to prevent a permanent stroke from occurring. (Locked) More »

What is diastolic dysfunction?

Diastolic dysfunction means the heart’s main pumping chambers, the ventricles, are stiff and unable to relax normally. It may lead to heart failure with preserved ejection fraction, which can cause breathing problems and swelling in the feet and legs. (Locked) More »

Fiber: The carb you can count on for heart health

Diets that provide plenty of fiber (about 25 to 29 grams per day) may reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke by as much as 30%. Consuming whole grains such as whole wheat and oatmeal seems to offer the most heart-protecting benefits. One reason for this benefit may be that people may substitute whole-grain foods for less-healthy refined grains, such as white rice and white bread, which raise blood sugar and have other harmful metabolic effects. More »

How do race and ethnicity affect heart risk?

In the United States, certain racial and ethnic groups face a higher risk of dying from heart disease than others, with the highest risk among blacks. Non-Hispanic whites are second, with the lowest risk seen among Hispanics. Genetic variations that affect blood pressure and distribution of body fat may explain some differences, and smoking rates may also play a role. But non-genetic factors, such as access to healthy food and safe places to exercise, likely also affect a person’s risk. (Locked) More »

Lessons from the blood pressure drug recall

In the summer of 2018, a number of blood pressure medications containing generic valsartan, losartan, and irbesartan were recalled after investigators discovered trace amounts of possible cancer-causing impurities in some of the products. The risk to consumers who took these drugs is very low. The FDA estimates that if 8,000 people took the highest valsartan dose, which is 320 milligrams, from recalled batches every day for four years, there would likely be one additional case of cancer over the lifetimes of those 8,000 people. People who take prescription medications should pay close attention to news alerts about drug recalls and check the FDA’s online list of recalled drugs for additional information. (Locked) More »