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

Four keys to prevent cardiovascular disease

After decades of steady decline, the number of deaths from cardiovascular disease (CVD) has increased over the last few years. However, an estimated 80% of all CVD —heart disease, heart attack, heart failure, and stroke—can be prevented. They key is to control high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and follow healthy habits, such eating a plant-based diet, adopting regular physical activity, and getting adequate sleep. (Locked) More »

Legume of the month: Lentils

Lentils, which come in an array of colors including yellow, red, green, brown, and black, are a good source of plant-based micronutrients known as polyphenols that are thought to help protect against cardiovascular disease. More »

Put your heart in the right place

Cardiac rehab provides supervised exercise and teaches the fundamentals of a heart-healthy lifestyle to people who have had heart surgery or another cardiac event. During the program, which usually involves three sessions per week over a three-month period, participants get an individualized treatment plan with goals for their blood pressure, blood sugar, heart rate, and weight (and smoking cessation, if needed). Cardiac rehab not only lowers the risk of dying of heart disease by about 24%, it also improves exercise ability and quality of life. (Locked) More »

Sex hormones and your heart

As people age, the natural decline in sex hormone levels sometimes causes undesirable symptoms, including hot flashes and a flagging sex drive. Thanks to new evidence, information about the cardiovascular safety of estrogen and testosterone therapy has shifted over the years. For women with uncomfortable, frequent hot flashes that disrupt their sleep and daily function, hormone therapy is an option for those who are not at high cardiovascular risk. Men with troubling sexual dysfunction and fatigue may want to ask their doctor about checking their testosterone levels. In men ages 65 and older with low levels, testosterone therapy may improve libido and sexual satisfaction. (Locked) More »

Heart rhythm monitoring with a smartwatch

Some smartphones now feature sensors and apps that detect atrial fibrillation, the most common heart rhythm disorder. But these devices are not yet accurate enough to use for screening purposes. About 30% of the data are uninterpretable or inaccurate, in part because of factors such as movement, lighting, temperature, and skin color. In addition, doctors cannot be fully available to review information generated from these devices. Finally, the health consequences of occasional, brief episodes of atrial fibrillation (which causes a rapid, irregular heartbeat) are unknown. (Locked) More »