Healthy Heart Corner

Your Heart & How it Works

Your Heart & How it WorksThe heart is the main pump that runs your body – an amazing organ that feeds all your cells with oxygenated and nutrition-rich blood. All the blood vessels are basically your body’s pipelines. This complex system is what circulates blood throughout the entire body.

The heart is made up of muscle tissue and is about the size of a person’s fist. It has four chambers – the two upper are the atria, the two lower are the ventricles. A wall of tissue called the septum separates these two chambers. With the help of four heart valves, blood gets pumped through the chambers. These valves open and close to let the blood flow in only one direction.

The four heart valves:

  • Tricuspid Valve – controls the flow of oxygen-rich blood from the left atrium to the left ventricle
  • Pulmonary Valve – controls the flow of oxygen-poor blood from the right ventricle to the lungs.
  • Mitral Valve – controls the flow of oxygen-rich blood from the left atrium to the left ventricle.
  • Aortic Valve – controls the flow of blood from the right atrium to the right ventricle.

Each valve has a set of "flaps" (also called leaflets or cusps). All the valves have have three, except the mitral valve – which has two flaps.

How Does the Heart Make the Blood Flow?

From the body to the heart

Dark bluish blood, low in oxygen, flows back to the heart after circulating through the body. It returns to the heart through veins and enters the right atrium. This chamber empties blood through the tricuspid valve into the right ventricle.

From the heart to the lungs

The right ventricle pumps the blood under low pressure through the pulmonary valve into the pulmonary artery. From there the blood goes to the lungs where it gets fresh oxygen.

From the lungs to the heart

After the blood is refreshed with oxygen, it's bright red. Then it returns to the left heart through the pulmonary veins to the left atrium. From there it passes through the mitral valve and goes into the left ventricle.

From the heart to the body

The left ventricle pumps the red oxygen-rich blood out through the aortic valve into the aorta. The aorta takes blood to the body's general circulation.

How does the heart beat?

The atria and ventricles work together by alternately contracting 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 the beating happen.

A Snapshot of Heart Disease

Heart disease is not one condition, it’s actually a general term for many different diseases affecting the heart. Heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women and is responsible for 40% of all deaths in the United States. In fact, heart disease claims the lives of more people than all types of cancers combined. Here are a few additional facts about how heart disease affects us:

Clear Lake Heart Hospital

Be Heart Smart: Know Your Risk Factors

One of goals is to help you identify what your risks might be and equip you with the tools necessary to lead a heart-healthy lifestyle; knowing your risk factors is an important step. Risk factors are any condition, habits or situations that raise your risk for heart disease. Risk factors also contribute to worsening any existing cardiovascular disease.

Risk Factors… The Ones You Can’t Control:

Since you cannot do anything about these risk factors, it's even more important for you to manage the risk factors that can be changed.

  • Getting Older – a majority of those who die from coronary heart disease are older than 65 years of age. Additionally, women at older ages who have heart attacks are more likely than men are to die from them within a few weeks.
  • Being a Male – Men have a greater risk of heart attack than women do, and they have attacks earlier in life. Even after menopause, when women's death rate from heart disease increases, it's not as great as men's.
  • Genetics – Children of parents with heart disease are more likely to develop it themselves. African Americans have more severe high blood pressure than Caucasians and a higher risk of heart disease. Heart disease risk is also higher among Mexican Americans, American Indians, native Hawaiians and some Asian Americans. This is partly due to higher rates of obesity and diabetes. Most people with a strong family history of heart disease have one or more other risk factors. Just as you can't control your age, sex and race, you can't control your family history. Therefore, it's even more important to treat and control any other risk factors you have.

Risk Factors… The Ones You Can Control:

The American Heart Association identifies these risk factors as the most prevalent factors in evaluating one’s potential for heart disease.

  • Smoking – A smoker’s' risk of developing coronary heart disease is 2-4 times that of nonsmokers. People who smoke a pack of cigarettes a day have more than twice the risk of heart attack than people who’ve never smoked. Cigarette smoking is a powerful independent risk factor for sudden cardiac death in patients with coronary heart disease. Cigarette smoking also acts with other risk factors to greatly increase the risk for coronary heart disease. Exposure to other people's smoke increases the risk of heart disease even for nonsmokers.
  • High Cholesterol As blood cholesterol rises, so does risk of coronary heart disease. When other risk factors (such as high blood pressure and tobacco smoke) are present, this risk increases even more. A person's cholesterol level is also affected by age, sex, heredity and diet. Here's the lowdown on where those numbers need to be:
    • Total Cholesterol: Less than 200 mg/dL
    • LDL (bad) Cholesterol:
      • If you're at low risk for heart disease: Less than 160 mg/dL
      • If you're at intermediate risk for heart disease: Less than 130 mg/dL
      • If you're at high risk for heart disease (including those with existing heart disease or diabetes): Less than 100mg/dL
    • HDL (good) Cholesterol: 40 mg/dL or higher for men and 50 mg/dL or higher for women
    • Triglycerides: Less than 150 mg/dL
  • High Blood Pressure – High blood pressure increases the heart's workload, causing the heart to thicken and become stiffer. This stiffening of the heart muscle is not normal, and causes the heart not to work properly. It also increases your risk of stroke, heart attack, kidney failure and congestive heart failure. When high blood pressure exists with obesity, smoking, high blood cholesterol levels or diabetes, the risk of heart attack or stroke increases several times.
  • Physical Inactivity – An inactive lifestyle is a risk factor for coronary heart disease. Regular, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity helps prevent heart and blood vessel disease. The more vigorous the activity, the greater your benefits. However, even moderate-intensity activities help if done regularly and long term. Physical activity can help control blood cholesterol, diabetes and obesity, as well as help lower blood pressure in some people.
  • Obesity and overweight – People who have excess body fat — especially if a lot of it is at the waist — are more likely to develop heart disease and stroke even if they have no other risk factors. Excess weight increases the heart's work. It also raises blood pressure and blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and lowers HDL ("good") cholesterol levels. It can also make diabetes more likely to develop. Many obese and overweight people may have difficulty losing weight. But by losing even as few as 10 pounds, you can lower your heart disease risk.
  • Diabetes – Diabetes seriously increases your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Even when glucose levels are under control, diabetes increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, but the risks are even greater if blood sugar is not well controlled. At least 65% of people with diabetes die of some form of heart or blood vessel disease. If you have diabetes, it's extremely important to work with your healthcare provider to manage it and control any other risk factors you can. Persons who are obese or overweight should lose weight to keep blood sugar in control. For more information about our Diabetes Management Programs.

Heart Attack Symptoms

A heart attack is when blood flow through a coronary artery is completely blocked, and thus the heart muscle doesn’t receive enough oxygen-rich blood.

This damage is typically what causes the chest pain that many people feel and serves as one of the most obvious signs of a heart attack. People feel this pain usually in the center of the chest, but sometimes it radiates into the arms (usually the left), or even the back, stomach, neck, jaw or teeth.

It’s important to remember that the dramatic, chest-gripping heart attack we often see on television and in movies isn’t the case for everyone. It’s estimated that one-third of heart attacks occur without any pain – often called “silent heart attacks.” In fact, women are less likely than men to feel chest pain during a heart attack.

Be aware of heart attack symptoms:

  • Chest pressure, tightening in the chest
  • Back pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid heartbeats
  • Sweating
  • Pain in one or both arms

Know these "atypical" symptoms:
While the following symptoms can be “atypical” of a heart attack, they also are common ailments associated with other conditions. It’s important to know that women often experience more atypical symptoms than men in the onset of a heart attack.

  • Back, neck, or jaw pain
  • Nausea
  • Excessive sweating
  • Vomiting
  • Feeling of Indigestion
  • Feeling of suffocation
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Rapid heartbeats
  • Dizziness
  • Light-headedness

Heart attack pain typically lasts more than half an hour.

Heart-healthy Recipes

Enjoy these delicious downloadable PDF recipes, from the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women Cookbook. Check back soon for new recipes!

Pumpkin Custards a la Mode Recipe

Pork Medallions in Chunky Apple Cream Sauce Recipe

Nutty Chocolate Oatmeal Bars Recipe