Frequently Asked Questions (General)
At the Heart Center at Huntington Hospital we take pride in assisting our patients as much as possible with questions about their care. Patients may consult with our physicians, physician assistants, registered nurses and specialist technologists while admitted for treatment, upon discharge, or from their home, if necessary.
What is the Normal Heart?
The heart is a muscular pump, about the size of a man's clenched fist. It is located in the mid left chest, behind the rib cage and above the diaphragm. The heart is divided into four distinct chambers by a wall of tissue called the septum which separates the heart into right and left sides, and two valves between the upper and lower chambers. The upper chambers are called atria and receive blood from the body. The lower chambers are called the ventricles, and send blood out to the body.
A loose sac surrounds the heart, absorbing any friction which might be caused by the movement of the heart. This sac, called the pericardium, normally contains a very small amount of fluid. The muscle which forms the chambers of the heart and pumps blood is called the myocardium. The inner portion of the heart chambers and valves is lined with a slick surface called the endocardium. It is similar to the lining of the inside of the mouth, and functions to reduce turbulence of blood flow through the heart.
The heart pumps blood through the body and lungs allowing the exchange of nutrients and oxygen. The heart has four valves which keep the blood flowing in the right direction. The valves help prevent the back flow of blood. The four valves in the heart are: tricuspid, pulmonic, mitral, and aortic
Blood is transported throughout the body in vessels called veins and arteries. Veins are vessels which carry blood to the heart. Arteries are vessels which take blood away from the heart. They have a muscular wall which is able to expand and relax with each pulsation of blood out of the heart.
Circulation of the blood through the heart accomplishes two major tasks:
- The right side of the heart receives oxygen-poor blood from the body and sends that blood to the lungs to be replenished with oxygen
- The left side of the heart receives blood now rich with oxygen from the lungs and sends it to all the body tissues
The chambers, electrical pathways and the blood vessels work together to ensure the heart pumps an adequate amount of blood rich in oxygen and nutrients throughout the body and carries away the waste products.
What is Hypertension?
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is diagnosed when resting blood pressures significantly exceeds normal values. About 90 percent of the people who have hypertension are said to have "essential" hypertension. This means that here is no known cause (such as kidney disease) for their hypertension. However, it is critical that this condition be treated, since hypertension significantly increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and other disorders. Research has shown that individuals with very low resting blood pressures (90/60 for instance) have significantly less risk of developing these diseases.
What are the most common risk factors for coronary artery disease (CAD)
There are two types of risk factors associated with heart disease:
- Uncontrollable Risk Factors are those that you cannot change. They include:
- Gender (male, although female are now increasingly at risk as well-please see women and heart disease information page)
- Age (greater than 45 years in men; greater than 55 year in women or earlier if premature menopause without estrogen replacement therapy)
- Family history of heart disease and stroke
- Controllable Risk Factors are those that you can change. They include:
- Elevated blood cholesterol/high fat diet
- Hypertension (high blood pressure greater than 140/90 mmHg or taking antihypertensive medication)
- Sedentary lifestyle (lack of regular aerobic exercise)
These factors do not carry the same amount of "risks". Some, such as cigarette smoking, may significantly increase the risk of cardiac disease. Having multiple risk factors greatly increases one's risk.
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Our site is published for educational purposes only and not intended to provide or recommend any medical advice. Please, consult with your physician or appropriate medical provider, if you have any questions regarding your health.