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Understanding the Heart


Heart Disease is the number 1 cause of death in the U.S. and the world! Most people know this but many people are not clear on how the heart works and why it is susceptible to damage.

In order to understand this disease you must first understand the heart. The heart is a muscle about the size of a fist. It is located in the thoracic cavity between the lungs. It contains 4 chambers, which are separated by walls, called the septum and contains structures like doors, called valves, which controls the flow of blood from one chamber to the next. The primary goal of the heart is to pump blood through the body. The blood flows to and exits the heart through large blood vessels called the Great Vessels.

The heart is divided into a right and left side. Each side contains 2 chambers called the atrium and the ventricle. They are referred to as the right atrium and right ventricle or the left atrium and left ventricle. The right side receives blood from the body that is depleted of oxygen and full of carbon dioxide. The blood is transported to the heart through the superior and inferior vena cava. The blood is then pumped to the lungs where the carbon dioxide is removed and oxygen added. This blood is then sent to the left side of the heart and the heart then pumps it through the Aorta to all parts of the body supplying the oxygen needed for our cells to function.

The blood is pumped to all organs through vessels called arteries. These arteries branch into smaller vessels, called arterioles and then capillaries just like tree limbs divide into smaller and smaller branches that eventually become twigs. The blood returns to the heart through smaller vessels that merge to larger vessels called veins and eventually to the Vena Cava.

The heart also needs oxygenation and the arteries that supply it are referred to as the coronary arteries. They too branch into much smaller vessels like the twigs on a tree. The main coronary arteries are the right and left coronary arteries. The right coronary artery (RCA) supplies blood to the right side of the heart. The left coronary artery (LCA) branches into the left anterior descending (LAD) and the circumflex arteries. The LAD supplies blood to the anterior, lateral and apical portions of the left ventricle while the circumflex sends blood to the left atrium. The LAD is the most commonly occluded artery and the consequences are death or significant impairment.

The heart pumps in a rhythmic fashion. The heart relaxes to allow blood to enter its chambers and then it squeezes to pump the blood to the lungs and the rest of the body. This must be coordinated otherwise it wouldn’t be able to perform its function. An electrical circuit that is conducted through the heart controls the cadenced beat of the heart. The tissue contracts in cycles like the fall of dominoes. If one tissue area beats out of cycle the whole rhythm is thrown off and the heart will malfunction.

The heart has a well-defined job it must do via a complex function. All of the components must work in synergy to complete the simple task of getting oxygenated blood to all of the tissue and returning de-oxygenated blood to the lungs. If any single constituent part is damaged then the function of the entire structure will be affected.

I hope this article has provided you with information that will help you make wise choices, so you may:

Live healthy, live well and live long!
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Content copyright © 2014 by Dr. Denise Howard. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Dr. Denise Howard. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Dr. Denise Howard for details.

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