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

Can a smart watch diagnose a heart attack?

ECG readings taken with a smart watch may be just as accurate as a traditional ECG done in a medical setting. But the notion of using a smart watch to diagnose a heart attack is still years away. One main reason: obtaining an ECG with a smart watch requires carefully holding the back of the watch on the wrist and at eight specific locations on the chest and abdomen. Quality control and regulatory issues are other important hurdles that need to be addressed. But experts believe improved smart watches with enhanced diagnostic ability may be on the market within a decade. More »

Cooking from — and for — the heart this holiday season

Preparing lighter or alternative versions of foods and drinks traditionally served during the December holidays may help curb year-end weight gain. Examples include baked latkes made with added vegetables (such as zucchini, cauliflower, or beets) and nonalcoholic cocktails make with sparkling water, a splash or fruit juice, and fresh fruit. (Locked) More »

Fish oil drug helps shrink plaque in heart arteries

A drug made from a highly purified form of EPA (an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish) appears to help reduce plaque in the heart’s arteries. This may explain why the drug, icosapent ethyl (Vascepa), helps lower the risk of heart attack and stroke. More »

Grain of the month: Buckwheat

Buckwheat is a pyramid-shaped seed that’s used like a grain and featured in different forms in cuisines around the world. Buckwheat contains substances that may help improve blood vessel health and lower cholesterol. More »

Our evolving understanding of the problem with plaque

New imaging techniques that use light or sound waves to create images of the inside of coronary arteries have helped researchers better understand the fat-laden plaque that builds up inside artery walls (atherosclerosis). Most heart attacks happen when small, inflamed areas of fatty plaque rupture suddenly, causing a clot that blocks blood flow. This may explain why treating large, obstructive plaques with stents or bypass surgery does not seem to prevent heart attacks or help people live longer. (Locked) More »

Slightly leaky heart valves

A small amount of leakage (regurgitation) from the mitral or tricuspid valve is normal. People with either condition do not need to modify their activity levels, but they should stay alert to symptoms that suggest the problem is worsening. (Locked) More »

When you take these popular pain relievers, proceed with caution

Over-the-counter and prescription drugs known as NSAIDs pose a risk to the cardiovascular system. They include over-the-counter drugs such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and prescription drugs such as celecoxib (Celebrex). NSAIDs can cause the kidneys to hold on to salt and water, which tends to raise blood pressure. They also appear to affect the inner linings of blood vessels and alter other blood substances in a manner that promotes blood clots. People who need these pain-relieving medications should take the smallest dose for the shortest possible period of time. (Locked) More »

Beyond "bad" cholesterol: A closer look at your blood lipids

For assessing heart disease risk, a standard cholesterol test doesn’t always tell the whole story. Some people with "normal" LDL cholesterol levels might benefit from a test that measures apolipoprotein B (apoB). This test, which measures the number of LDL particles as well as other particles that can contribute to clogged arteries, may be a better indicator of heart disease risk than just an LDL cholesterol value. (Locked) More »