By Elana B. Award-winning writer, advertiser, speaker and internationally published author
Everyone knows that the heart is a vital organ. We cannot live without our heart. So what exactly is the heart? It’s a pump. It’s complex, vital and creates life for its host, but still it’s just a pump. As with all other pumps it can become clogged, leak, break down, and need repair. This is why it is critical that we know how the heart works and what complications can arise from neglecting your heart. Knowing how best to protect your heart health and the risk factors for heart disease, which include: signs and symptoms, causes, and preventative measures (exercise, stress management and diet) will help significantly reduce the risk of heart disease and complications due to it.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in America. The good news is that the death rate from heart disease has been steadily decreasing. Unfortunately, heart disease still causes sudden death and many people die before reaching the hospital.
Understanding how the heart works
The heart is the hardest working muscle in the body. The average heart beats between 90,000 to 100,000 times a day to supply oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. Blood pumped by the heart also transports waste products such as carbon dioxide to the lungs so it can be eliminated from the body.
Chambers and Valves
The heart is divided into four chambers:
- right atrium (RA)
- right ventricle (RV)
- left atrium (LA)
- left ventricle (LV)
Each chamber has a type one-way valve at its exit that prevents blood from flowing backwards. When each chamber contracts, the valve at its exit opens, and when finished contracting, the valve closes so that blood does not flow backwards.
So what is at the exit to each chamber?
- The tricuspid valve is at the exit of the right atrium
- The pulmonary valve is at the exit of the right ventricle
- The mitral valve is at the exit of the left atrium
- The aortic valve is at the exit of the left ventricle
When the heart muscle contracts or beats (called systole), it pumps blood out of the heart. When the heart muscle relaxes it is called (diastole).
The heart contracts in two stages
- In the first stage, the right and left atria contract at the same time, pumping blood to the right and left ventricles.
- Then the ventricles contract together to propel blood out of the heart. Then the heart muscle relaxes (called diastole) before the next heartbeat. This allows blood to fill up the heart again.
The right and left sides of the heart have separate functions:
- The right side of the heart collects oxygen-poor blood from the body and pumps it to the lungs where it picks up oxygen and releases carbon dioxide
- The left side of the heart collects oxygen-rich blood from the lungs and pumps it to the body so that the cells throughout your body have the oxygen they need to function properly
Proper heart function is essential to support life; without it, heart disease can apply to any number of conditions.
Complications of heart disease
- Heart failure
- One of the most common complications of heart disease is heart failure, which occurs when your heart can’t pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs and your heart stops.
- Heart failure can result from many forms of heart disease, including heart defects, cardiovascular disease, valvular heart disease, heart infections or cardiomyopathy.
- Heart attack
- A blood clot blocking the blood flow through a blood vessel that feeds the heart causes a heart attack. It can possibly damage or destroy a part of the heart muscle
- Atherosclerosis can cause a heart attack.
- The risk factors that lead to cardiovascular disease also can lead to an ischemic stroke, which happens when the arteries to your brain are narrowed or blocked so that too little blood reaches your brain
- Anyone showing any signs or symptoms of a stroke should call 911. A stroke is a medical emergency and brain tissue begins to die within just a few minutes of a stroke
- An aneurysm is a bulge in the wall of your artery. If an aneurysm bursts, you may face life-threatening internal bleeding
- Peripheral artery disease (PAD)
- When you develop peripheral artery disease, your extremities (usually legs) don’t receive enough blood flow. This causes symptoms, most notably leg pain when walking
- Sudden cardiac arrest
- Is the sudden, unexpected loss of heart function, breathing and consciousness, often caused by an arrhythmia
- Sudden cardiac arrest is a medical emergency. If not treated immediately, it is fatal
What are lifestyle and health risk factors and causes for heart disease?
Certain lifestyle factors and choices increase the risk of heart disease
- Poor diet
- A diet that’s high in fat, salt, sugar and cholesterol can contribute to the development of heart disease
- Diabetes increases your risk of heart disease. Both conditions share similar risk factors, such as obesity and high blood pressure
- Being “type A” personality (impatient, aggressive, and/or competitive)
- Physical inactivity
- Lack of exercise also is associated with many forms of heart disease and some of its other risk factors, as well.
- Experiencing emotional distress or being “stressed out”
- Anxiety and anxiety disorders
- Constant overload (everyone needs time to de-stress, i.e., yoga, meditation, walking, dancing, sports, even jumping rope)
- Excess weight typically worsens other risk factors
- Aging increases your risk of damaged and narrowed arteries and weakened or thickened heart muscle
- Family history
- A family history of heart disease increases your risk of coronary artery disease, especially if a parent developed it at an early age (before age 55 for a male relative and 65 for a female relative
- High blood pressure
- Uncontrolled high blood pressure can result in hardening and thickening of your arteries, narrowing the vessels through which blood flows
- High blood cholesterol levels.
- High levels of cholesterol in your blood can increase the risk of formation of plaques and atherosclerosis.
- What is important to remember is that “cholesterol” isn’t all bad. It’s an essential fat that your bodies’ cells need
- Some cholesterol comes from the diet and some is made by the liver
- Cholesterol can’t dissolve in blood, so proteins in the blood carry it where it needs to go. These carriers are called lipoproteins
- A healthy cholesterol level is under 200 mg/dl; however, it is the ratio of “good” cholesterol versus “bad” cholesterol and not just the total cholesterol that is important
- healthy levels of (LDL) “bad” cholesterol must be under 100 mg/dL
- Healthy (HDL) “good” cholesterol need to be above 40 mg/dL; the higher the HDL, the better, as long as your total cholesterol is under 200.
- Have a yearly check up that includes cholesterol testing
- Poor hygiene
- Not regularly washing your hands and not establishing other habits that can help prevent viral or bacterial infections can put you at risk of heart infections, especially if you already have an underlying heart problems and or conditions
- Nicotine constricts your blood vessels, and carbon monoxide can damage their inner lining, making them more susceptible to atherosclerosis
- Heart attacks are more common in smokers than in nonsmokers
- Men are generally at greater risk of heart disease. However, women’s risk increases after menopause.
- Peripheral artery disease (PAD) (also called peripheral arterial disease)
- Is a common circulatory problem in which narrowed arteries reduce blood flow to your limbs
- When you develop (PAD) in your extremities (usually your legs) the legs don’t receive enough blood flow to keep up with demand. This causes symptoms, most notably leg pain when walking
- Peripheral artery disease is also likely to be a sign of a more widespread accumulation of fatty deposits in your arteries (atherosclerosis). This condition may be reducing blood flow to your heart and brain, as well as your legs
- Three important ways to help reduce the risk of PAD is
- Healthy diet
- Normal cholesterol levels
- Daily Exercise
Common signs and symptoms of heart disease
Many people with heart disease notice symptoms during physical exercise or exertion. During physical exercise, the heart needs more oxygen and nutrients, so people with heart disease may notice symptoms when they are active more than when at rest. Some symptoms of heart disease include:
- Jaw pain
- Chest pain
- Back pain (typically left sided)
- Shortness of breath
- Sweating for no reason
- Dizziness (lightheadedness)
- Restricted feeling (tight pressure or the feeling of suffocating)
- Even flu-like symptoms can be a warning sign
It is important to remember that not all of these symptoms need to be present in order for you to have a heart attack or be diagnosed with heart disease. The list above is just some of the symptoms associated with heart disease and heart attacks.
Almost 50-percent of heart attack patients (mainly women) complain of an inability to fall asleep in the days prior to suffering a heart attack or coronary episode. Other symptoms of insomnia include waking often and in general having poor quality of sleep. Insomnia can strike for weeks in advance to an attack.
In addition to insomnia being a precursor to a heart attack, research suggests that insomniacs have a much higher risk of having a heart attack than those who typically have no trouble sleeping. These serious symptoms include:
- trouble falling asleep
- Trouble staying asleep
- Not feeling refreshed when you get up in the morning
It is unclear at this point how insomnia is linked to heart failure, but researchers are confident there is a strong link between insomnia and heart attacks.
Pain in Other Areas
While most people recognize chest pain as a symptom of a heart attack, they generally don’t know that pain in other areas can be an impending sign of a heart attack as well. Discomfort or a mild tingling sensation in areas such as the stomach, back, neck, and jaw, even down one or both arms is very common prior to a heart attack. Some people even experience pain in their teeth.
- EKG Electrocardiogram
- Electricity flows through the heart cells to stimulate a contraction of the heart muscle. People who have heart disease have hearts that do not conduct electricity normally
- Stress test
- A stress test observes the behavior of the heat while the patient is walking or running on a treadmill. The patient is hooked up to an EKG machine to test, before, during, and after the test is performed
- Sometimes a patient may be too weak to perform a stress test. If so, a doctor can administer medications that simulate the heart activity during exercise while the patient remains stationary.
- The doctor may also use nuclear imaging or ultrasound. Both of these options are less invasive then injecting something into a person to simulate the hearts function while stressed or exerting itself
- Moderate-intense activity, including brisk walking, is associated with substantial reduction of cardiovascular disease risk
- Regular exercise and maintenance of healthy weight also helps reduce insulin resistance and the risk of non–insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus
- How much exercise is needed? A minimum of 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week
- EKG Electrocardiogram
Coronary arteries are the ones that we try to keep clear by eating a healthy diet. If coronary arteries are blocked you can have a heart attack. The heart does not extract oxygen and other nutrients from the blood flowing inside it. The heart gets its blood from the coronary arteries that eventually carry blood within the heart muscle.
- There are two main coronary arteries:
- The left main coronary artery
- The right coronary artery
- Each artery supplies blood to different parts of the heart muscle and the electrical system
Many types of heart disease can be prevented with the proper diet, exercise and knowledge. Being properly educated about the dangers of heart disease and taking preventative measures will also greatly reduce your risk of having a heart attack.
Give yourself some stress-management tools
Poorly controlled stress may have an adverse effect on blood lipids. An attitude of hostility has been powerfully linked with a higher incidence of cardiac events. Relaxation methods such as: meditation, breathing exercises, yoga, and stress management techniques are essential to help prevent cardiovascular disease and coronary artery disease.
Ask your health professional about herbs and nutritional supplements that may be useful in preventing and treating cardiovascular disease, including:
- Turmeric (curcumin)
- In India, turmeric has been used traditionally for thousands of years as a remedy for stomach and liver ailments
- Fenugreek is used for digestive problems such as loss of appetite, upset stomach, constipation, and inflammation of the stomach (gastritis). Although some consider its use folklore, fenugreek has been used for conditions that affect heart health such as “hardening of the arteries” (atherosclerosis) and for high blood levels of certain fats including cholesterol and triglycerides.
- Possible Ovarian Cancer Treatment: A study conducted at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center found that ginger powder induces cell death in all ovarian cancer cells to which it was applied
- Packed with antioxidants, your immune system could benefit if you give it a constant boost of powerful garlic in daily recipes. You can add a bit of honey or ginger to improve the taste
- Vitamin B12
- Folic acid
- Some people use folic acid to prevent heart disease and stroke, as well as to reduce blood levels of a chemical called homocysteine
- High homocysteine levels might be a risk for heart disease
- Vitamin B6
- Coenzyme Q10
- Vitamin E
- Fish Oils
- Rich in Omega 3’s, including (Krill oil) which is one of the purest forms. When buying fish oil make sure that it is cold pressed. Braleens or Dr. Mercola’s Krill Oil
Knowing all the methods to keep a healthy heart is not just important, it is vital to life itself.
Consult your doctor before using any health treatment, plan, or activity — including herbal supplements and natural remedies. Also, tell your doctor if you have a serious medical condition or are taking any medications. The information presented here is for educational purposes only and is in no way intended as substitute for medical counseling.
Elana B. is an award-winning writer, speaker, and internationally published author. As a writer and ghostwriter she has written hundreds of stories from shorts to books to screenplays.
A gifted storyteller, Elana B.’s new children’s series, Too Terribly Busy and the “Too Terribly” Series of books, teach in a fun, creative way some of the most important lessons in life. Through this entertaining series of books, children will learn morals, manners, how important it is to achieve goals, as well as conflict resolution. Sneak peek of the first story in the new series: TooTerriblyBusy-SP1.
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