Wednesday, April 29, 2009

I want to thank everyone for your interest in and comments about my first series addressing health issues.
This will be the last of the series on Heart Disease. Again, if there is a health issue that you would like to see addressed, leave a comment or e-mail me and I will see what I can come up with.



Heart disease is the number 1 killer in the United States. Each year, almost half a million Americans die from a heart attack. Half of these, or one quarter of a million people, will die suddenly, outside of the hospital, because their heart stops beating.

* The most common cause of death from a heart attack in adults is a disturbance in the electrical rhythm of the heart called ventricular fibrillation.

o Ventricular fibrillation can be treated, but it requires applying an electrical shock to the chest called defibrillation.

o If a defibrillator is not readily available, brain death will occur in less than 10 minutes.

* One way of buying time until a defibrillator becomes available is to provide artificial breathing and circulation by performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR.

o The earlier you give CPR to a person in cardiopulmonary arrest (no breathing, no heartbeat), the greater the chance of a successful resuscitation.

o By performing CPR, you keep oxygenated blood flowing to the heart and brain until a defibrillator becomes available.

* Because up to 80% of all cardiac arrests occur in the home, you are most likely to perform CPR on a family member or loved one.

* CPR is one link in what the American Heart Association calls the "chain of survival." The chain of survival is a series of actions that, when performed in sequence, will give a person having a heart attack the greatest chance of survival.

o When an emergency situation is recognized, the first link in the chain of survival is early access. This means activating the emergency medical services, or EMS, system by calling 911 (check your community plan, some communities require dialing a different number).

o The next link in the chain of survival is to perform CPR until a defibrillator becomes available.

o In some areas of the country, simple, computerized defibrillators, known as automated external defibrillators, or AEDs, may be available for use by the lay public or first person on the scene. If available, early defibrillation becomes the next link in the chain of survival.

o Once the EMS unit arrives, the next link in the chain of survival is early advanced life support care. This involves administering medications, using special breathing devices, and providing additional defibrillation shocks if needed.

NOTE: This reference is only intended to serve as a guideline for learning about CPR. It is not intended to be a replacement for a formal CPR course. If you are interested in taking a CPR course contact the American Heart Association at (800) AHA-USA1, or the American Red Cross by phoning your local chapter. Never practice CPR on another person, because bodily damage can occur.

Learn CPR for a loved one.

How to Take Heart Medication

Your doctor may prescribe a variety of heart medications you can take to treat or prevent heart disease. These drugs may help lower your blood pressure, reduce the level of cholesterol in your blood, or help your body get rid of excess fluids that put a strain on your heart's ability to pump blood.

Heart medication needs vary for each person. Whatever the treatment protocol prescribed to you, it is a good idea to keep the following guidelines in mind when you're taking heart disease medication.

Here are some tips for taking drugs for your heart disease:

* Know the names of your heart medications and how they work. Know the generic and brand names, dosages, and side effects of your medications. Always keep a list of your medications with you.
* Take your heart medications as scheduled, at the same time every day. Do not stop taking or change your medications unless you first talk with your doctor. Even if you feel good, continue to take your medications. Stopping your medications suddenly can make your condition worse.
* Have a routine for taking your heart medications. Get a pillbox that is marked with the days of the week. Fill the pillbox at the beginning of each week to make it easier for you to remember.
* Keep a medicine calendar and note every time you take a dose. Your prescription label tells you how much to take at each dose, but your doctor may change your dosage periodically, depending on your response to the medication. On your medication calendar, you can list any changes in your drug dosages as prescribed by your doctor.
* Do not decrease your drug dosage to save money. You must take the full amount to get the full benefits. Talk with your doctor about ways you can reduce the costs of your medications.
* Do not take any over-the-counter drugs or herbal therapies unless you ask your doctor first. Some drugs, such as antacids, salt substitutes, antihistamines (including Benadryl and Dimetapp), and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents (NSAIDs, such as Advil, Motrin, and Indocin), can worsen heart failure symptoms.
* If you forget to take a dose, take it as soon as you remember. However, if it is almost time for your next dose, ask your doctor about skipping versus making up the missed dose.
* Regularly fill your prescriptions and ask your pharmacist any questions you have. Do not wait until you are completely out of medication before filling your prescriptions. If you have trouble getting to the pharmacy, have financial concerns, or have other problems that make it difficult for you to get your heart drugs, let your doctor know.
* When traveling, keep your medications with you so you can take them as scheduled. On longer trips, take an extra week's supply of medications and copies of your prescriptions, in case you need to get a refill.
* Before having surgery with a general anesthetic, including dental surgery, tell the doctor or dentist in charge what heart drugs you are taking. An antibiotic may need to be prescribed prior to your surgical or dental procedure.
* Some heart drugs may alter your heart rate, so take your pulse regularly.
* Medications that relax constricted blood vessels may cause dizziness. If you experience dizziness when standing or getting out of bed, sit or lie down for a few minutes, then get up more slowly.

Heart Disease: Living with Heart Disease

Coronary artery disease is a chronic disease with no cure. When you have coronary artery disease, it is important to take good care of your heart for the rest of your life. This is especially true if you have had an interventional procedure or surgery to improve blood flow to the heart. Procedures do not cure coronary artery disease. It is up to you to take steps to stop the disease from progressing.

Here are some steps you can take to make living with heart disease easier:

* Recognize the symptoms. Call your doctor if symptoms become more frequent or severe. Call for emergency assistance if rest and/or medications do not relieve symptoms after 15 minutes. DO NOT WAIT TO GET HELP!
* Reduce your risk factors. The more risk factors you have, the greater your risk for future heart problems.
* Take your medications. Your medications are used to control your symptoms and help your heart work more efficiently. Follow your doctor's instructions when you take your medications.
* See your doctor for regular check-ups. Schedule regular appointments with your primary doctor and/or your heart doctor (even if you have no symptoms). Your appointments may be spaced once a year or more often if your doctor feels you need to be followed more closely.

How Can I Reduce My Risk Factors?

Making the necessary lifestyle changes is not easy. It takes dedication and discipline to quit smoking, eat right, and master techniques to ease stress. The following tips may help get you started. But, it's a good idea to seek help from dieticians, doctors and support groups to keep you on track.

Regardless of the lifestyle change you are trying to make:

* Have a plan before starting.
* Create realistic goals for yourself.
* Master one change at a time (for example, quit smoking before changing your diet).
* Write a formal or informal contract to strengthen your commitment to make the necessary lifestyle changes.
* Prepare for lapses and relapses. Don't be too hard on yourself when this happens.
* Be sure to reward yourself when you do well (this doesn't mean treating yourself to a hamburger and fries).
* Make sure you have plenty of support from your friends and family. Seek the help of support groups. Also, talk to your doctor about participating in a cardiac rehabilitation program.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Heart Disease and the Doctor's Exam

Some standard and simple exam techniques provide your doctor with the first clues to how well your heart functions and whether you have heart disease. During your visit, your doctor will listen to your heart, take your heart rate, and check your blood pressure.

Heart Rate

Your doctor feels your pulse in order to check your heart's rate, rhythm, and regularity. Each pulse matches up with a heartbeat that pumps blood into the arteries. The force of the pulse also helps evaluate the amount (strength) of blood flow to different areas of your body.

You can tell how fast your heart is beating (heart rate) by feeling your pulse. Your heart rate is the amount of times your heart beats in one minute.

To measure your pulse, all you need is a watch with a second hand.

* Place your index and middle finger of your hand on the inner wrist of the other arm, just below the base of the thumb. You should feel a tapping or pulsing against your fingers.
* Count the number of taps you feel in 10 seconds.
* Multiply that number by 6 to find out your heart rate for one minute (pulse in 10 seconds x 6 = ____ beats per minute)

When feeling your pulse, you can also tell if your heart rhythm is regular or not.


Your doctor listens to your heartbeat with the aid of a stethoscope. The opening and closing of your valves make a "lub dub" sound known as the heart sounds. The doctor can evaluate your heart and valve function and hear your heart's rate and rhythm by listening to your heart sounds.

Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is the force or pressure exerted in the arteries by the blood as it is pumped around the body by the heart. It is recorded as two measurements:

* Systolic blood pressure. Pressure in the arteries during the period of the heart's contraction (the higher number).
* Diastolic blood pressure. Pressure in the arteries when the heart is relaxed, between heartbeats (the lower number).

Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), which refers to how high the pressure in the arteries can raise a column of mercury in a sphygmomanometer, a device for measuring blood pressure.

Normal blood pressure for an adult, relaxed at rest, is less than or equal to 120 over 80. The 120 is the systolic pressure; the diastolic pressure is 80. Blood pressure may increase or decrease, depending on your age, heart condition, emotions, activity, and the medications you take. One high reading does not mean you have high blood pressure. It is necessary to measure your blood pressure at different times while resting to find out your typical value.

Physical Exam

Your doctor can also tell about your heart's function by examining other parts of your body such as your eyes, arms, legs, and skin.

Blood Tests

Your doctor may recommend a blood test to check your cholesterol and other markers that may indicate heart disease.

Heart Disease, Electrocardiogram, and Specialized EKGs

An electrocardiogram (also called EKG or ECG) is a test that records the electrical activity of your heart through small electrode patches attached to the skin of your chest, arms, and legs. An EKG may be part of a routine physical exam or it may be used as a test for heart disease. An EKG can be used to further investigate symptoms related to heart problems.

EKGs are quick, safe, painless, and inexpensive tests that are routinely performed if a heart condition is suspected.

Your doctor uses the EKG to:

* Assess your heart rhythm.
* Diagnose poor blood flow to the heart muscle (ischemia).
* Diagnose a heart attack.
* Evaluate certain abnormalities of your heart, such as an enlarged heart.

How Should I Prepare for an EKG?

To prepare for an EKG:

* Avoid oily or greasy skin creams and lotions the day of the test. They interfere with the electrode-skin contact.
* Avoid full-length hosiery, because electrodes need to be placed directly on the legs.
* Wear a shirt that can be easily removed to place the leads on the chest.

What Happens During an EKG?

During an EKG, a technician will attach 10 electrodes with adhesive pads to the skin of your chest, arms, and legs. Men may have chest hair shaved to allow a better connection. You will lie flat while the computer creates a picture, on graph paper, of the electrical impulses traveling through your heart. This is called a "resting" EKG. This same test may also be used to monitor your heart during exercise.

It takes about 10 minutes to attach the electrodes and complete the test, but the actual recording takes only a few seconds.

Your EKG patterns will be kept on file for later comparison with future EKG recordings.

If you have questions, be sure to ask your doctor.

In addition to the standard EKG, your doctor may recommend other specialized EKG tests, including a holter monitor or a signal-averaged electrocardiogram.

What Is a Holter Monitor?

A holter monitor is a portable EKG that monitors the electrical activity of a freely moving person's heart generally for one to two days, 24-hours a day. It is most often used when the doctor suspects an abnormal heart rhythm or ischemia (not enough blood flow to the heart muscle).

It is a painless test; electrodes from the monitor are taped to the skin. Once the monitor is in place, you can go home and perform all of your normal activities (except showering). You will be asked to keep a diary of your activities and any symptoms you experience and when they occur.

What Is an Event Monitor?

If your symptoms are infrequent your doctor may suggest an event monitor. This is a device that, when you push a button, will record and store the heart's electrical activity for a few minutes. Each time you develop symptoms you should try to get a reading on the monitor. They are used for weeks to months, typically one month. This information can later by transmitted by telephone to the doctor for interpretation.

What Is a Signal-Averaged Electrocardiogram?

This is a painless test used to assess whether a person is at high risk of developing a potentially fatal heart arrhythmia. It is performed in a similar manner to the EKG, but uses sophisticated technology to look for heart arrhythmias.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

After a discuss with Mrs. Betsy from Tennessee, she brought up an interesting fact, that heart attacks in women are not always the same as in men.
So, I visited the Women's Heart Foundation ( and this is what they said:

Heart Attack Symptoms: An Action Plan for Women

A Healthy Hearts Guide

Heart disease is our nation's number one killer.

Getting treatment quickly –at the first sign of distress –is critical for lifesaving medicines and treatments to work.

Newer blood tests are being used to diagnose a heart attack more quickly and accurately.

There are about 500,000 heart attack deaths in the U.S. each year. At least 250,000 people die before they even get to the hospital. Many of these deaths could be prevented by acting quickly and by getting treatment right away, especially within the first hour of having chest pain

Women account for nearly half of all heart attack deaths. Between the ages of 40 and 60, as many women die of heart disease as breast cancer. Over a lifetime, heart disease kills five times as many women as breast cancer. Heart disease is our nation's number one killer. Newer blood tests are being used to diagnose a heart attack more quickly and accurately. Getting treatment quickly –at the first sign of distress –is critical for lifesaving medicines and treatments to work.

Place a checkmark next to the heart disease risk factors that apply to you

_ Smoking or daily exposure to second-hand smoke (at home or at work)
_ Past heart attack or known coronary artery disease
_ Family history
_ Elevated lipids (over 240 mg/dL. or HDL less than 35 mg/dL)
_ Abnormal heartbeat
_ High blood pressure
_ Birth control pills (in combination with smoking)
_ Overweight (by 20 or more pounds)
_ Post-menopausal (and without estrogen replacement therapy)
_ Sedentary lifestyle

The Warning

A Heart Attack may cause some or all of these symptoms:

Pain, pressure, fullness, discomfort or squeezing in the center of the chest

Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

Stabbing chest pain

Radiating pain to shoulder(s), neck, back, arm(s) or jaw

Pounding heartbeats (palpitations) or feeling extra heartbeats

Upper abdominal pain

Nausea, vomiting or severe indigestion

Sweating for no apparent reason

Dizziness with weakness

Sudden extreme fatigue

Panic with feeling of impending doom

A note about women's milder symptoms - About a third of women experience no chest pain at all when having a heart attack and 71% of women report flu-like symptoms for two weeks to a month prior to having more acute chest discomfort or severe shortness of breath. These milder symptoms are under-reported to emergency room staff.

If you suspect a heart attack, call 9-1-1

Say “I am having a heart attack”.

Chew an uncoated aspirin right away as this can reduce damage to the heart muscle.

Go to the nearest medical facility with 24-hour emergency cardiac care. Don't drive yourself. If you're not sure that the pain you are experiencing is serious, it is best to go to the emergency room to find out.

Get treatment quickly. Clot buster medicine and coronary angioplasty work best if provided after the first signs of distress, so don’t wait. Get to the emergency room without delay. Every Minute Counts!.

Monday, April 13, 2009


Heart Disease: Symptoms

Coronary artery disease, heart attack -- each type of heart disease has different symptoms, although many heart problems have similar symptoms. The symptoms you experience depend on the type and severity of your heart condition. Learn to recognize your symptoms and the situations that cause them. Call your doctor if you begin to have new symptoms or if they become more frequent or severe.

Coronary Artery Disease

The most common symptom is angina. Angina can be described as a discomfort, heaviness, pressure, aching, burning, fullness, squeezing or painful feeling in your chest. It can be mistaken for indigestion or heartburn. Angina is usually felt in the chest, but may also be felt in the shoulders, arms, neck, throat, jaw or back.

Other symptoms that can occur with coronary artery disease include:

* Shortness of breath
* Palpitations (irregular heart beats, skipped beats or a "flip-flop" feeling in your chest)
* A faster heartbeat
* Weakness or dizziness
* Nausea
* Sweating

Heart Attack (Myocardial Infarction or MI)

Symptoms can include:

* Discomfort, pressure, heaviness, or pain in the chest, arm or below the breastbone
* Discomfort radiating to the back, jaw, throat or arm
* Fullness, indigestion or choking feeling (may feel like heartburn)
* Sweating, nausea, vomiting or dizziness
* Extreme weakness, anxiety or shortness of breath
* Rapid or irregular heartbeats

During a heart attack, symptoms typically last 30 minutes or longer and are not relieved by rest or oral medications (medications taken by mouth). Initial symptoms can start as a mild discomfort that progresses to significant pain.

Some people have a heart attack without having any symptoms (a "silent" MI). A silent MI can occur among all people, though it occurs more often among diabetics.

If you think you are having a heart attack, DO NOT DELAY. Call for emergency help (dial 911 in most areas). Immediate treatment of a heart attack is very important to lessen the amount of damage to your heart.


When symptoms of arrhythmias are present, they may include:

* Palpitations (a feeling of skipped heart beats, fluttering or "flip-flops," or feeling that your heart is "running away").
* Pounding in your chest.
* Dizziness or feeling light-headed.
* Fainting.
* Shortness of breath.
* Chest discomfort.
* Weakness or fatigue (feeling very tired).

Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a type of arrhythmia. Most people with AF experience one or more of the following symptoms:

* Heart palpitations (a sudden pounding, fluttering, or racing feeling in the heart).
* Lack of energy; tired.
* Dizziness (feeling faint or light-headed).
* Chest discomfort (pain, pressure, or discomfort in the chest).
* Shortness of breath (difficulty breathing during activities of daily living).

Some patients with atrial fibrillation have no symptoms. Sometimes these episodes are briefer.

Heart Valve Disease

Symptoms of Heart valve disease can include:

* Shortness of breath and/or difficulty catching your breath. You may notice this most when you are active (doing your normal daily activities) or when you lie down flat in bed.
* Weakness or dizziness.
* Discomfort in your chest. You may feel a pressure or weight in your chest with activity or when going out in cold air.
* Palpitations (this may feel like a rapid heart rhythm, irregular heartbeat, skipped beats or a flip-flop feeling in your chest).
* If valve disease causes heart failure, symptoms may include:
* Swelling of your ankles, feet or abdomen. Swelling may also occur in your belly, which may cause you to feel bloated.
* Quick weight gain (a weight gain of two or three pounds in one day is possible).

Symptoms do not always relate to the seriousness of your valve disease. You may have no symptoms at all and have severe valve disease, requiring prompt treatment. Or, as with mitral valve prolapse, you may have severe symptoms, yet tests may show minor valve disease.

Heart Failure

Symptoms of Heart failure can include:

* Shortness of breath noted during activity (most commonly) or at rest, especially when you lie down flat in bed.
* Cough that is productive of a white mucus.
* Quick weight gain (a weight gain of two or three pounds in one day is possible).
* Swelling in ankles, legs and abdomen.
* Dizziness.
* Fatigue and weakness.
* Rapid or irregular heartbeats.
* Other symptoms include nausea, palpitations and chest pain.

Like valve disease, heart failure symptoms may not be related to how weak your heart is. You may have many symptoms, but your heart function may be only mildly weakened. Or you may have a severely damaged heart, with little or no symptoms.

Congential Heart Disease

Congenital heart defects may be diagnosed before birth, right after birth, during childhood, or not until adulthood. It is possible to have a defect and no symptoms at all. Sometimes it can be diagnosed because of a heart murmur on physical exam or an abnormal EKG or chest X-ray in an asymptomatic person.

In adults, if symptoms are present, they may include:

* Shortness of breath.
* Limited ability to exercise.
* Symptoms of heart failure (see above) or valve disease (see above).

Congenital Heart Disease in Infants and Children

Symptoms can include:

* Cyanosis (a bluish tint to the skin, fingernails and lips).
* Fast breathing and poor feeding.
* Poor weight gain.
* Recurrent lung infections.
* Inability to exercise.

Heart Muscle Disease (Cardiomyopathy)

Many people with heart muscle disease have no symptoms or only minor symptoms, and live a normal life. Other people develop symptoms, which progress and worsen as heart function worsens.

Symptoms can occur at any age and may include:

* Chest pain or pressure (occurs usually with exercise or physical activity, but can also occur with rest or after meals).
* Heart failure symptoms (see above).
* Swelling of the lower extremities.
* Fatigue.
* Fainting.
* Palpitations (fluttering in the chest due to abnormal heart rhythms).

Some people also have arrhythmias. These can lead to sudden death in a small number of people with cardiomyopathy.


When present, symptoms of pericarditis may include:

* Chest pain. This pain is different from angina (pain caused by coronary artery disease). It may be sharp and located in the center of the chest. The pain may radiate to the neck and occasionally, the arms and back. It is made worse when lying down, taking a deep breath in, coughing or swallowing and relieved by sitting forward.

Low-grade fever.
* Increased heart rate.

Because many of the symptoms associated with each type of heart disease are similar, it is important to see your doctor so that you can receive a correct diagnosis and prompt treatment.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Heart and Cardiovascular Diseases

When you think of heart disease, usually people think of coronary artery disease (narrowing of the arteries leading to the heart), but coronary artery disease is just one type of cardiovascular disease.

Cardiovascular disease includes a number of conditions affecting the structures or function of the heart. They can include:

* Coronary artery disease (including heart attack)
* Abnormal heart rhythms or arrythmias
* Heart failure
* Heart valve disease
* Congenital heart disease
* Heart muscle disease (cardiomyopathy)
* Pericardial disease
* Aorta disease and Marfan syndrome
* Vascular disease (blood vessel disease)

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S. It is important to learn about your heart to help prevent heart disease. And, if you have cardiovascular disease, you can live a healthier, more active life by learning about your disease and treatments and by becoming an active participant in your care.

Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary artery disease (CAD) is atherosclerosis, or hardening, of the arteries that provide vital oxygen and nutrients to the heart.

Abnormal Heart Rhythms

The heart is an amazing organ. It beats in a steady, even rhythm, about 60 to 100 times each minute (that's about 100,000 times each day!). But, sometimes your heart gets out of rhythm. An irregular or abnormal heartbeat is called an arrhythmia. An arrhythmia (also called a dysrhythmia) can involve a change in the rhythm, producing an uneven heartbeat, or a change in the rate, causing a very slow or very fast heartbeat.

Heart Failure

The term "heart failure" can be frightening. It does not mean the heart has "failed" or stopped working. It means the heart does not pump as well as it should.

Heart failure is a major health problem in the U.S., affecting nearly 5 million Americans. About 550,000 people are diagnosed with heart failure each year. It is the leading cause of hospitalization in people older than 65.

Heart Valve Disease

Your heart valves lie at the exit of each of your four heart chambers and maintain one-way blood-flow through your heart.

Examples include mitral valve prolapse, aortic stenosis, and mitral valve insufficiency.

Congenital Heart Disease

Congenital heart disease is a type of defect in one or more structures of the heart or blood vessels that occurs before birth.

It affects about 8 out of every 1,000 children. Congenital heart defects may produce symptoms at birth, during childhood and sometimes not until adulthood.

In most cases scientists don't know why they occur. Heredity may play a role as well as exposure to the fetus during pregnancy to certain viral infections, alcohol, or drugs.


Cardiomyopathies are diseases of the heart muscle itself. People with cardiomyopathies -- sometimes called an enlarged heart -- have hearts that are abnormally enlarged, thickened, and/or stiffened. As a result, the heart's ability to pump blood is weakened. Without treatment, cardiomyopathies worsen over time and often lead to heart failure and abnormal heart rhythms.


Pericarditis is inflammation of the lining that surrounds the heart. It is a rare condition often caused by an infection.

Aorta Disease and Marfan syndrome

The aorta is the large artery that leaves the heart and provides oxygen-rich blood throughout the body. These diseases and conditions can cause the aorta to dilate (widen) or dissect (tear), increasing the risk for future life-threatening events, such as:

* Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
* Hypertension (high blood pressure).
* Genetic conditions such as Marfan Syndrome.
* Connective tissue disorders (that affect the strength of the blood vessel walls) such as, scleroderma, osteogenesis imperfecta, polycystic kidney disease, and Turner's syndrome.
* Injury.

People with aorta disease should be treated by an experienced team of cardiovascular specialists and surgeons.
Other Vascular Diseases

Your circulatory system is the system of blood vessels that carry blood to every part of your body.

Vascular disease includes any condition that affects your circulatory system. These include diseases of the arteries and blood flow to the brain.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


How the Heart Works

Your heart is an amazing organ. It continuously pumps oxygen and nutrient-rich blood throughout your body to sustain life. This fist-sized powerhouse beats (expands and contracts) 100,000 times per day, pumping five or six quarts of blood each minute, or about 2000 gallons per day.

How Does Blood Travel Through the Heart?

As the heart beats, it pumps blood through a system of blood vessels, called the circulatory system. The vessels are elastic, muscular tubes that carry blood to every part of the body.

Blood is essential. In addition to carrying fresh oxygen from the lungs and nutrients to your body's tissues, it also takes the body's waste products, including carbon dioxide, away from the tissues. This is necessary to sustain life and promote the health of all the body's tissues.

Heart Disease and How a Healthy Heart Works

There are three main types of blood vessels:

* Arteries. They begin with the aorta, the large artery leaving the heart. Arteries carry oxygen-rich blood away from the heart to all of the body's tissues. They branch several times, becoming smaller and smaller as they carry blood further from the heart and into organs.
* Capillaries. These are small, thin blood vessels that connect the arteries and the veins. Their thin walls allow oxygen, nutrients, carbon dioxide and other waste products to pass to and from our organ's cells.
* Veins. These are blood vessels that take blood back to the heart; this blood has lower oxygen content) and is rich in waste products that are to be excreted or removed from the body. Veins become larger and larger as they get closer to the heart. The superior vena cava is the large vein that brings blood from the head and arms to the heart, and the inferior vena cava brings blood from the abdomen and legs into the heart.

This vast system of blood vessels -- arteries, veins and capillaries -- is over 60,000 miles long. That's long enough to go around the world more than twice!

Blood flows continuously through your body's blood vessels. Your heart is the pump that makes it all possible.
Where Is Your Heart and What Does It Look Like?

The heart is located under the rib cage, to the left of your breastbone (sternum) and between your lungs.

heart disease and how a healthy heart works

Looking at the outside of the heart, you can see that the heart is made of muscle. The strong muscular walls contract (squeeze), pumping blood to the rest of the body. On the surface of the heart, there are coronary arteries, which supply oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle. The major blood vessels that enter the heart are the superior vena cava, the inferior vena cava, and the pulmonary veins.The pulmonary artery and the aorta exit the heart and carry oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body.
Where Is Your Heart and What Does It Look Like? continued...

On the inside, the heart is a four-chambered, hollow organ. It is divided into the left and right side by a muscular wall called the septum. The right and left sides of the heart are further divided into two top chambers called the atria, which receive blood from the veins, and two bottom chambers called ventricles, which pump blood into the arteries.

The atria and ventricles work together, contracting and relaxing to pump blood out of the heart. As blood leaves each chamber of the heart, it passes through a valve. There are four heart valves within the heart:

* Mitral valve
* Tricuspid valve
* Aortic valve
* Pulmonic valve (also called pulmonary valve)

The tricuspid and mitral valves lie between the atria and ventricles. The aortic and pulmonic valves lie between the ventricles and the major blood vessels leaving the heart.

The heart valves work the same way as one-way valves in the plumbing of your home. They prevent blood from flowing in the wrong direction.

Each valve has a set of flaps, called leaflets or cusps. The mitral valve has two leaflets; the others have three. The leaflets are attached to and supported by a ring of tough, fibrous tissue called the annulus. The annulus helps to maintain the proper shape of the valve.

The leaflets of the mitral and tricuspid valves are also supported by tough, fibrous strings called chordae tendineae. These are similar to the strings supporting a parachute. They extend from the valve leaflets to small muscles, called papillary muscles, which are part of the inside walls of the ventricles.
How Does Blood Flow Through the Heart?

The right and left sides of the heart work together. The pattern described below is repeated over and over, causing blood to flow continuously to the heart, lungs and body.
Right Side

* Blood enters the heart through two large veins, the inferior and superior vena cava, emptying oxygen-poor blood from the body into the right atrium.
* As the atrium contracts, blood flows from your right atrium into your right ventricle through the open tricuspid valve.
* When the ventricle is full, the tricuspid valve shuts. This prevents blood from flowing backward into the atria while the ventricle contracts.
* As the ventricle contracts, blood leaves the heart through the pulmonic valve, into the pulmonary artery and to the lungs where it is oxygenated.

Left Side

* The pulmonary vein empties oxygen-rich blood from the lungs into the left atrium.
* As the atrium contracts, blood flows from your left atrium into your left ventricle through the open mitral valve.
* When the ventricle is full, the mitral valve shuts. This prevents blood from flowing backward into the atrium while the ventricle contracts.
* As the ventricle contracts, blood leaves the heart through the aortic valve, into the aorta and to the body.
How Does Blood Flow Through Your Lungs?

Once blood travels through the pulmonic valve, it enters your lungs. This is called the pulmonary circulation. From your pulmonic valve, blood travels to the pulmonary artery to tiny capillary vessels in the lungs.

Here, oxygen travels from the tiny air sacs in the lungs, through the walls of the capillaries, into the blood. At the same time, carbon dioxide, a waste product of metabolism, passes from the blood into the air sacs. Carbon dioxide leaves the body when you exhale. Once the blood is purified and oxygenated, it travels back to the left atrium through the pulmonary veins.

What Are the Coronary Arteries?

Like all organs, your heart is made of tissue that requires a supply of oxygen and nutrients. Although its chambers are full of blood, the heart receives no nourishment from this blood. The heart receives its own supply of blood from a network of arteries, called the coronary arteries.

Two major coronary arteries branch off from the aorta near the point where the aorta and the left ventricle meet:

* Right coronary artery supplies the right atrium and right ventricle with blood. It branches into the posterior descending artery, which supplies the bottom portion of the left ventricle and back of the septum with blood.
* Left main coronary artery branches into the circumflex artery and the left anterior descending artery. The circumflex artery supplies blood to the left atrium, side and back of the left ventricle, and the left anterior descending artery supplies the front and bottom of the left ventricle and the front of the septum with blood.

These arteries and their branches supply all parts of the heart muscle with blood.

When the coronary arteries narrow to the point that blood flow to the heart muscle is limited (coronary artery disease), a network of tiny blood vessels in the heart that aren't usually open called collateral vessels may enlarge and become active. This allows blood to flow around the blocked artery to the heart muscle, protecting the heart tissue from injury.
How Does the Heart Beat?

The atria and ventricles work together, alternately contracting and relaxing to pump blood through your heart. The electrical system of your heart is the power source that makes this possible.

Your heartbeat is triggered by electrical impulses that travel down a special pathway through your heart.

* The impulse starts in a small bundle of specialized cells called the SA node (sinoatrial node), located in the right atrium. This node is known as the heart's natural pacemaker. The electrical activity spreads through the walls of the atria and causes them to contract.
* A cluster of cells in the center of the heart between the atria and ventricles, the AV node (atrioventricular node) is like a gate that slows the electrical signal before it enters the ventricles. This delay gives the atria time to contract before the ventricles do.
* The His-Purkinje network is a pathway of fibers that sends the impulse to the muscular walls of the ventricles, causing them to contract.

At rest, a normal heart beats around 50 to 99 times a minute. Exercise, emotions, fever and some medications can cause your heart to beat faster, sometimes to well over 100 beats per minute.

Thank you so much for your patience. Before getting started, I want to let you know about a website that is very beneficial for all: WebMD. They have information on any and all health issues, plus articles and research materials. My favorite part? They have a symptom checker. They won't say, "This is it", but they will give you a list of possibles for you to check into and narrow down.

By request, I'm going to start our journey with HEART DISEASE. Who among us has not had their lives touched by heart disease?
In order for us to benefit the most and to cover this subject accurately, I will do the post as a series.

I, again, encourage you to let me know if there is a topic you would like for me to explore.