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learn how your heart works!

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How Your Heart Works

About a hundred times a minute, 100,000 times a day, 36.5 million times a year, your heart keeps the beat... the beat of life.

That familiar thump, thump, thump tells you that your heart is doing its job pumping blood from the veins to the heart & lungs, where it's replenished with oxygen & then distributed back to the body thru the arteries. 

The human heart is really a pump, a powerful muscle the size of your fist that circulates blood to & from the body's millions of cells.

It's divided into 4 chambers.

There are 2 chambers on each side with a wall-like divider between them called a septum that separates the left side from the right side.

These 2 receiving chambers have 2 passageways called valves.

Each side of the heart has 2 valves that allow blood to pass thru the heart. The tricuspid valve on the right & the mitral valve on the left regulate blood flow between the atrium & the ventricle on each side.

The right valve is called the pulmonary valve & it allows blood to flow from the right ventricle to the pulmonary arteries, which supply the lungs.

The left valve is called the aortic valve, which regulates blood flow from the left ventricle to the aorta.

diagram of the heart

In the normal adult, the heart pumps 5 liters of blood, which is recirculated continuously through the body. The blood moves from the heart into tubes called arteries, then into tiny tubes called capillaries & finally into the veins that lead back to the heart.

The entire cycle only takes about 60 seconds.

In that 60 seconds the blood brings nourishment & oxygen to all the body's cells in the tissues, organs, muscles & bones.

Major Risk Factors

Reducing Your Risk Factors

What's A Risk Factor?
A risk factor is a specific condition or behavior associated with the development of heart & blood vessel disease. The more risk factors, the greater chance you have of developing heart disease. Therefore, reducing these risk factors is the key to a healthier heart.

What Are The Risk Factors?
There are risk factors that can' be controlled or changed & there are risk factors that can be controlled or changed.


Proven methods to cut your heart attack risk Forget latest quick fixes & go for tried & true measures, experts say   By Allison Van Dusen

Sure, many of us can't resist glazed doughnuts & french fries & don't remember what the inside of a gym looks like. And yes, we're constantly stressed out about work & could stand to lose 10 pounds.

But a heart attack? They happen to other people - not you.

Even if the worst should occur, doctors can use drugs to decrease the damage to your heart, or perform angioplasty or bypass surgery to fix the problem. Right?

Not always. Up to 25% of people who die of sudden cardiac death had no prior symptoms or warnings such as chest pain.

"You can't just rely on the thought that, 'Oh, well, if I have a heart attack the doctors will be there to save me & put me on medications,'" says Dr. Erin Michos, a cardiology fellow at Johns Hopkins Medicine. "Some people don't make it to the hospital. They die at home. Prevention needs to begin early in life."

Heart attacks strike when one or more of the heart's arteries are blocked, severely reducing or stopping blood from reaching part of the heart muscle. They're usually preceded by the buildup inside the artery walls of fatty deposits or plaque, which can rupture, causing a blood clot to form & block the artery. When the blood supply is cut off for more than a few minutes it can be deadly.

Coronary heart disease remains the nation's single leading cause of death & it's estimated that 1.2 million Americans will have a first or recurrent coronary attack this year, killing 452,000 of them, according to the American Heart Association.

Preventative measures
If those statistics sound frightening, take heart.

Cardiologists, doctors, nutritionists & other experts say you have the power to cut your risk of having a heart attack.

Instead of looking for the latest quick fix, however, focus your preventive efforts on what's already been proven.

For starters, that means changing your diet. But, as registered dietitian & American Heart Association spokeswoman Ronni Litz Julien points out, today there are lots more do's than don'ts.

She tells clients to get a tablespoon of olive oil a day, either with sautéed vegetables or a salad & to frequently eat low-mercury fish, which is high in omega-3 fatty acids & can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

A few eggs a week are no longer forbidden. Neither is meat, if you're eating lean, 4-oz to 6-oz cuts. The same goes for nuts, such as walnuts, almonds, cashews & peanuts, as long as you're not demolishing a Costco-size container in 2 days.

Here's a more complex description of the blood's journey through the body: The blood moves from the left atrium to the left ventricle through the mitral valve. As the left ventricle contracts, it pushes open the aortic valve and the blood is carried into the aorta, which distributes it to all other body organs including the heart by way of the coronary arteries. These arteries wind around the heart to keep the heart muscle supplied with oxygen and nutrients for its continuous pumping job.

As wastes are produced, they are delivered through the blood to the right atrium through the vena cava. The accumulated blood pushes open the tricuspid valve, allowing the blood to pass from the right atrium to the right ventricle. After the chamber fills, the heart contracts and the pulmonary valve opens. Blood then flows from the right ventricle into the pulmonary artery.

The pulmonary artery, which has two branches, carries blood to the right and left lungs. From the lungs, the capillary vessels carry the blood along the lungs' tiny air sacs. As the lungs breathe, carbon dioxide is passed from the body and oxygen is taken in. As this transfer occurs, the blood changes from purple or dark red to bright red.

After passing through the lungs, the blood is brought by the pulmonary veins into the left atrium. From there, the blood starts its course through the left ventricle and aorta again.

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