Heart Health: Understanding the Heart and How to Keep it Healthy
The heart is one of the most essential parts of your body. Without it you wouldn’t be alive! Keeping your heart healthy is important, and understanding how it heart works is a great first step in staying healthy. The heart is more than just a muscle. It is a crucial part of your body’s functioning.
Understanding the Heart
The heart is located in the chest cavity near your lungs, protected by your ribs. It is a powerful muscle made up of several distinct parts. The outside of the heart is covered with muscle and a membrane called the pericardium that also helps to protect it. Your heart contains four chambers. The upper chambers are the atria and the lower are the ventricles. These are separated by a piece of muscle called the septum, and these chambers pump the blood and oxygen that travels through your body to keep it working.
The heart is connected to the circulatory system through arteries, veins, and the aorta - a large series of valves that allows blood to pass from your heart into your body. There are also valves regulating blood flow within the heart to keep it functioning properly.
- Texas Heart Institute: Heart anatomy
- National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute: Anatomy of the heart
- University of Minnesota: Atlas of human cardiac anatomy
Common Heart Diseases and Conditions
It is important to keep your heart healthy and to be knowledgeable about common heart diseases and conditions. Prevention and early detection can be key in living with or recovering from heart disease. Heart diseases are often known as cardiovascular diseases when they impact the structure of the heart or its function.
Coronary Artery Disease
Coronary Artery Disease is a leading heart disease. It is caused when plaque forms inside the artery walls and causes blood flow to be obstructed. This can be due to diet, smoking, high cholesterol, or even genetic factors. This type of heart disease can go undetected for years, but can also cause heart attacks or dangerous blood clots. Although there are many symptoms, chest pain and shortness of breath can occur and should definitely be checked out by a doctor.
Heart Muscle Disorders
Heart muscle disorders, or cardiomyopathy, are disorders that impact the muscles of the heart. Some forms and instances of cardiomyopathy are genetic, heart and muscle conditions passed down and inherited through a family, but some are due to health and lifestyle. Coronary artery disease can cause cardiomyopathy, as can alcoholism or even an infection. Also, people who have lost a large amount of weight, including muscle, can be prone to cardiomyopathy.
- Children’s Cardiomyopathy Foundation: About the disease
- Detroit Medical Center: Cardiac conditions
- Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Association: What is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM)?
Heart Rhythm Disorders
Your heart beats to a rhythm. Sometimes it slows and sometimes it speeds up, but it should keep a relatively constant rhythm to facilitate proper blood flow. However, sometimes the heart develops an irregular rhythm, or an arrhythmia. This can occur for a variety of reasons. Heart disease, chemical imbalances, medications, drug use, alcoholism, or genetic causes can all result in arrhythmias. Arrhythmia is not uncommon, and many who suffer from long-term or genetic arrhythmia eventually get pacemakers to keep the heart beating at a consistent rhythm.
- American Heart Association: About arrhythmia
- Stanford Health Care: Diagnosis
- Cedars-Sinai: Diagnostic procedures: arrhythmia
Heart disease impacts a staggering number of people. It is estimated that 1 in 4 deaths in the United States is caused by some form of heart disease, with coronary heart disease being the most prevalent. Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States, and many women (and men) do not know the symptoms of heart disease. Knowing if you are genetically predisposed to heart disease, how to avoid heart disease, and how to recognize the symptoms of heart problems is crucial for protecting your heart!
- American College of Cardiology: Heart disease statistics
- The Heart Foundation: Heart disease facts
- Centers for Disease Control: Heart disease facts & statistics
Health Tips for a Healthy Heart
There are many steps, both large and small, you can take for heart health. By living a healthy lifestyle, even if you are genetically likely to develop heart disease, you can help prevent and lessen the severity of any heart problems!
- Stay active. Walking or being active even for short periods of time can help you stay healthy and keep your heart functioning properly.
- Eat fruits, vegetables, and plenty of fiber. While you should always see a doctor before making any major dietary changes, eating more fruits and vegetables as well as making sure you have fiber can help keep your heart and body healthy!
- Avoid infections. Wash your hands regularly and stay away from people who are sick and contagious. An infection could impact your heart.
- Breathe deeply. Meditating can be good for you, but simply taking a moment to take a few deep breaths helps get more oxygen into your body, reducing the workload on your heart.
- Avoid, or at least manage, stress. Stress impacts your body in numerous ways, including negatively impacting your heart. Avoiding stress may be impossible, but finding coping mechanisms can help!
- Don’t smoke or drink heavily. Smoking kills, and, while a glass or two of wine may actually help heart health, drinking to excess can cause damage to your body.
- Harvard Medical School: 10 small steps for better heart health
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: 25 heart-healthy cooking tips
Heart Health Calculators and Tools
While all medical questions should ultimately be directed to your doctor, there are some ways to check for yourself that your heart is healthy, and many ways to put into practice heart-healthy lifestyle habits. There are ways to estimate risk factors such as ethnicity and race, age, sex, and lifestyle. In addition, there are trackers for steps, for heart rate, and for weight, many of which you can access easily on your phone!
- Medical College of Wisconsin: Coronary heart disease risk calculator
- Consumer Reports: Guide to a healthy heart
- Preventative Cardiovascular Nurses Association: Heart healthy toolbox
Medical issues can be scary, and the heart is such an essential piece of the body that thinking about keeping it healthy can produce anxiety. However, talking with your doctor about heart disease and heart health is crucial. These resources also have information on your heart, your heart’s health, and how you can help keep your heart healthy!