Q: How does the heart work?
A: The heart is actually a muscle that works like a pump in distributing blood throughout the body. The heart has four chambers.
The two at the top are the left and right atria and the two at the bottom are the left and right ventricles. Blood vessels lead in and out of these chambers.
Oxygenated blood from the lungs flows into your heart and is then pumped out to the rest of your body.
Once the blood has delivered the oxygen to the tissues of the body, it returns to your heart and gets pumped back out to the lungs where it will be re-oxygenated.
Q: How does the heart beat?
A: The atria and ventricles work together by alternately contracting (squeezing) and relaxing to pump blood through your heart.
The heartbeat is triggered by electrical impulses that travel down a special pathway through your heart.
The electrical system of your heart is the power source that makes this beating possible.
Q: How does blood flow through the heart?
A: Your heart muscle is a very efficient pump that delivers blood, oxygen and nutrients to your body.
The heart has four chambers - two on the right and two on the left. Both sides of the heart work together. The right side pumps blood into the lungs and the left side pumps blood into the organs and tissues of your body.
After your blood flows through the body, its life-giving oxygen and nutrients have been depleted. To replenish the oxygen and revitalize the blood, it must pass through the heart and then into the lungs again.
Right side: First the oxygen-depleted blood enters the heart through two large veins, the inferior and superior vena cava and then flows into the right atrium. From the right atrium, it passes through the tricuspid valve and then into the right ventricle. The blood is then pumped through the pulmonary valve and into the lungs.
Once in the lungs, carbon dioxide is removed and oxygen is added to the blood.
Left side: The pulmonary vein empties oxygen-rich blood, from the lungs, into the left atrium. From here, the blood flows from your into your left ventricle through the open mitral valve and finally, it is pumped through the aortic valve into the aorta - the blood vessel that feeds all of the other parts of your body.
When the ventricles are full, the mitral and tricuspid valves close. This prevents blood from flowing backward into the atria while the ventricles contract (squeeze) or "pump." This pattern is repeated continuously throughout your life, causing blood to flow continuously to the heart, lungs and other parts of the body.
Q: What and where are the coronary arteries?
A: The heart requires oxygen to function properly. But the blood that is pumping through the heart does not supply oxygen to the heart muscle itself.
Special blood vessels attached to the outside of the heart, called coronary arteries, supply the heart with oxygen and nutrients needs.
Three major arteries and a number of smaller vessels are designed to perform this function.
Q: Why does heredity put a person at risk of heart disease?
A: Heredity is one cause of heart disease that someone cannot change. Many times heart disease is genetic and passed on from parent to child.
Children who have parents that have heart disease are more likely to develop heart disease themselves. Many times when heart disease is prevalent in families, it is also compounded with other risk factors.
It is always important for a family with a high risk factor of heart disease to treat and control any risk factors that may present themselves. Seeing a doctor regularly for check-ups and heart checks is important in helping to control any heart disease that runs in families.
The more a person knows about the heart disease that may run in their family, the more a person can do to help minimize the risks of developing it.
Obviously, doctors cannot do anything about what is in someone's genes, but the more information a person can share with his or her doctor about a hereditary heart disease, the more a doctor can do more to develop strategies that may help that person in the future.
Q: Why does smoking contribute to heart disease?
A: Smoking is a large contributor to heart disease. It is also the one contributor that is the most preventable. People who smoke run a risk that is two to four times greater than non-smokers of having a heart attack. This includes those who smoke cigarettes, cigars or pipes.
Smokers run a much higher risk of sudden cardiac death than non-smokers. Even if you only smoke one to two cigarettes a day, the risk is still quite high that you may have a stroke or a heart attack.
People who smoke put others at risk, even non-smokers, for developing heart disease. Someone who is often subjected to a smoker's second hand smoke is at a higher risk for developing heart disease.
Smoking is a contributing factor to heart disease. One easy way to eliminate this factor is to stop smoking.
Q: How can high blood pressure contribute to heart disease?
A: Blood pressure is often called a "silent killer"; because many people are unaware they suffer from high blood pressure. High blood pressure can lead to stroke and heart attack. People need to have their blood pressure monitored on a regular basis by a physician.
High blood pressure often causes an increase pressure on the kidneys and the heart to work harder. This then increases the risk of heart attack, stroke and even kidney disease.
A normal blood pressure is considered to be 120/80 and lower. High blood pressure is considered to be 140/90 and higher.
Blood pressure can be controlled through exercise, weight loss and diet. There are times when medication is required to help decrease blood pressure. Reducing your blood pressure results in less chance of developing heart disease.
Q: How can not exercising and eating poorly contribute to heart disease?
A: Many people don't exercise and often eat whatever they want, whenever they want. What many people don't know is that by doing this, they may be contributing to the development of heart disease.
People who don't exercise often gain weight. This weight gain can lead to being overweight or obese. Being obese or overweight increases your chances of developing heart disease.
Exercise also helps how well your heart pumps blood through your body. Quite simply, it keeps the heart healthy. Exercise can help reduce the effects of other contributing factors to heart disease. By exercising, you can lower your cholesterol and your blood pressure. It is recommended that a person get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day.
People often indulge in foods that aren't good for them. Foods that are fried in unhealthy oils or food that are full of fats are unhealthy. These types of food are bad for the body and can lead to the arteries clogging. Clogged arteries can lead to heart attack. The unhealthy fats or oils can higher cholesterol.
Many times, changing your diet can help reduce the chances of developing heart disease.
Q: What is heart disease?
A: Heart disease is a broad term used to describe several types of cardiovascular diseases. All of the diseases associated with the term heart disease can possibly be fatal, but also can be treated or prevented.
There are four types of heart disease that are common for diagnosis. They are as follows:
- Coronary artery disease
- Congestive heart failure
- Heart arrhythmia
Heart disease affects not only the heart but also the blood vessels surrounding the heart.
Heart disease can lead to the following conditions: heart attack, high blood pressure, stroke and angina.
Heart disease is currently the number one killer of both men and women in the United States. This disease continues to affect developing countries as well.
Q: What is coronary artery disease?
A: Coronary artery disease is the most common form of heart disease. Coronary artery disease is often referred to as CAD (coronary artery disease).
CAD occurs when the coronary arteries are clogged or narrowed with cholesterol or fat. This clogging or narrowing is commonly referred to as atherosclerosis. Coronary arteries supply our bodies with oxygen and nutrients.
When the arteries are narrowed or clogged due to coronary artery disease, the heart can't get enough oxygen. When this occurs and the heart muscle is injured, a heart attack is often the end result.
CAD often has no symptoms associated with it. However, it can cause mild chest pains to more obvious chest pains. At times CAD can interfere with a person's daily activities.
The warning signs that someone may be experiencing CAD are the following:
- An uncomfortable feeling of pressure in the chest that may come and go.
- Pain that may spread to the shoulder, neck or arms.
- Feeling of discomfort in the chest that is present with light-headedness or nausea.
CAD can also have less common warning signs such as: stomach pain, shortness of breath, trouble breathing, skin that pales, and cold sweats or palpitations.
If you experience any of the above symptoms, please consult with your doctor.
Q: What is congestive heart failure?
A: Congestive heart failure is another type of heart disease. It is, simply put, when a person’s heart fails. It is the most common reason for the elderly to be hospitalized.
Congestive heart failure often is a result of another type of heart condition. It occurs when the heart is not able to pump out enough blood from its chambers to meet the body's needs.
Congestive heart failure can also occur when a person’s heart chambers become stiff, which doesn't allow the heart to relax and thus fill with blood.
There are several symptoms to congestive heart failure. The symptoms are determined by which side of the heart may be failing. Often, the symptoms of congestive heart failure are from the congestion that occurs when fluid backs up into the lungs and pushes into the surrounding tissues.
Symptoms of heart failure on the left side of the heart may be as follows: tiredness, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing; especially when sleeping, wheezing, and weight loss.
Symptoms of heart failure on the right side of the heart may result in the following: tiredness, fluid in the feet, legs and abdomen, enlargement of the liver, and weight gain that is unintentional due to water retention.
A doctor should be contacted immediately when a person has any of the above symptoms.
Q: What is a heart arrhythmia?
A: A heart arrhythmia is when the heart beats at an abnormal rhythm or pace. Some arrhythmia's can be normal while others can cause severe side effects.
Most people have felt their own heart's miss a beat or feel like it took an extra beat. Those are considered normal arrhythmia's that occur occasionally.
Many people with healthy hearts should not have an arrhythmia that is troublesome. However, outside forces may trigger an arrhythmia. Things such as drugs or an electric shock may lead to an arrhythmia.
If someone has an already weakened heart, a heart arrhythmia can be fatal. An arrhythmia occur when the heart's electrical system isn't working correctly and beats either too slow or too fast. This arrhythmia's can develop in either the atria or the ventricles.
The symptoms of a heart arrhythmia can be any of the following:
- Fluttering in the chest
- Fast heartbeat
- Slow heartbeat
- Chest pain
- Trouble catching your breath
- Feeling light-headed
- Feeling dizzy
- Fainting or feeling like you may faint.
These symptoms do not necessarily mean there is a serious problem with your heart. However, if you experience any of the symptoms it is best to see a physician.
Q: What is cardiomyopathy?
A: Cardiomyopathy is another type of heart disease. A cardiomyopathy occurs when the heart muscle is unable to pump blood and beat normally. There are several forms of cardiomyopathy:
- Dilated Cardiomyopathy
- Restrictive Cardiomyopathy
- Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy
- Right Ventricular Dysplasia
The cause of cardiomyopathy is often not known. It can be related to coronary artery disease (CAD), especially in the elderly population. It can also be genetic or the result of an infection.
Cardiomyopathy that is not related to CAD is often rare, but seems to occur more in young people. These types of cardiomyopathies are the number one reason for heart transplants today.
There are several symptoms related to cardiomyopathy. Please see a doctor if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
- Gradually unable to tolerate physical exertion such as exercise, going up stairs, or even walking short distances
- Fainting, especially after physical exertion
- Feel light-headed usually after physical exertion
- Feeling dizzy
- Feeling your heart palpitate
- High blood pressure
Unfortunately, many times cardiomyopathy has no symptoms and often times a sudden death occurs even though the person had no symptoms of the disease. It is essential to see a doctor regularly if this type of heart disease is something you are at risk for.
Q: What should people eat for a heart healthy diet?
A: People battling heart disease, or those just wanting to get healthy and stay healthy need to maintain a healthy diet to do so.
A diet that is considered heart healthy is a diet that consists of limited amounts of processed foods and more fresh fruits and vegetables and lean meats. The fresher the food, the better for you!
We recommend eating a diet that is rich in fiber and whole grains. It also suggests that people lower their sodium intake and cut out unnecessary fats or oils.
By eating a diet similar to this, people can lower their blood pressure and cholesterol. This helps keep the heart healthier and reduces your risk of heart disease.
Many people run the risk of developing heart disease. Many people already have it. One great way to either prevent or reduce your risk of heart disease is to watch what you eat. As it ends up, you really are what you eat!
Q: How much fiber should adults have daily?
A: Fiber not only helps keep the digestive system healthy, but it also aids in lowering cholesterol which helps battle heart disease.
Good sources of fiber include fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, foods that are fortified, and beans.
Adults should be eating 15 to 20 grams of dietary fiber a day.
Fiber is classified into soluble and insoluble categories. It is the soluble fiber that aids in lowering cholesterol. Soluble fiber can be found in foods such as: oat bran, oatmeal, beans, rice bran, barley, oranges or other citrus fruits, and strawberries. Lowering cholesterol can help fight heart disease.
Insoluble fiber doesn't aid in lowering cholesterol, but it is essential in keeping the body's digestive system healthy.
It is important to read food labels carefully. Many processed foods with bran often do not contain enough bran to aid in lowering cholesterol.
Q: How can educating yourself help prevent heart disease?
A: One sure way to help prevent heart disease is to know it! People who are educated about the heart and heart disease often times reduce their risk of developing it.
Why would a person who has educated himself on the heart and the diseases of it be able to reduce the risk of developing heart disease? Simple. Most often that person knows the proper things to do in order to live a life that is heart healthy.
That person would know that a healthy, low-fat and low-sodium diet is key to maintaining a healthy heart. That person would know what their cholesterol levels and blood pressure should be. That person would know that exercise is important in daily life.
Just by educating yourself, you can lead a healthier life that may stop heart disease from affecting you.
There are many websites and books that can be read that will educate a person on heart disease. If you aren't educated or want to learn more, pick up a book or search the web. The more you learn, the better and you can start implementing the changes that need to happen, thus reducing your risk.
Education is key!
Q: What interventions should one take if they are determined to be high risk for heart disease?
A: If someone has been determined to be at risk for heart disease from heart disease screenings, it is essential that doctors and patients begin intervening so heart disease can be prevented or stopped.
Some of these interventions include:
- Stop smoking: If you are a smoker and you are at risk for heart disease, please stop smoking. Smoking leaves people at extreme high risk for heart disease. By stopping smoking, you can reduce that risk greatly.
- Lower blood pressure: High blood pressure puts a person at increased risk of heart disease. By lowering your blood pressure, you reduce the risk of developing it. Changing your diet and exercising can help. At times, physicians may need to prescribe medication to lower blood pressure.
- Cholesterol: People with high cholesterol run a greater chance of developing heart disease. If you are at risk for heart disease and have high cholesterol, it needs to be lowered. Diet and exercise can assist in this, but often medication is also needed.
Doctors will also recommend a healthier diet and establishing an exercise routine as a way to prevent heart disease.
Q: How can I prevent getting heart disease?
A: Ways to decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease include:
• Choosing an overall healthy eating pattern
• Achieving and maintaining an appropriate weight
• Achieving and maintaining a desirable cholesterol profile and blood pressure level
• Cessation of tobacco usage
• Participating in 30 minutes of physical activity three or four days of each week
• Controlling diabetes through diet and, if necessary, medication