February is Heart Awareness Month
February is American Heart Month and we’ll be focusing on educating you on various conditions of the heart, how to keep a healthy heart, and tips for caregivers.
The normal heart is a strong, muscular pump a little larger than a fist. It pumps blood continuously through the circulatory system. Each day the average heart beats 100,000 times and pumps about 2,000 gallons of blood. In a 70-year lifetime, an average human heart beats more than 2.5 billion times.
Cardiovascular disease is expected to kill about 23 million people a year globally by 2030. Yet 80% of all heart and stroke events are preventable. Our goal is to help educate you in hopes of preventing heart disease.
Heart disease is a basic term used to describe several problems with the heart including:
Arrhythmias are abnormal beats. The term “arrhythmia” refers to any change from the normal sequence of electrical impulses, causing abnormal heart rhythms. Arrhythmias may be completely harmless or life-threatening.
Some arrhythmias are so brief (for example, a temporary pause or premature beat) that the overall heart rate or rhythm isn’t greatly affected. But if arrhythmias last longer, they may cause the heart rate to be too slow or too fast or the heart rhythm to be erratic – so the heart pumps less effectively.
A fast heart rate (in adults, more than 100 beats per minute) is called tachycardia.
A slow heart rate (less than 60 beats per minute) is referred to as bradycardia.
An arrhythmia occurs when:
The heart’s natural pacemaker develops an abnormal rate or rhythm.
The normal conduction pathway is interrupted.
Another part of the heart takes over as pacemaker.
Cardiac arrest is the abrupt loss of heart function in a person who may or may not have diagnosed heart disease. The time and mode of death are unexpected. It occurs instantly or shortly after symptoms appear.
Each year, more than 420,000 emergency medical services-assessed out-of-hospital cardiac arrests occur in the United States.
The term “heart attack” is often mistakenly used to describe cardiac arrest. While a heart attack may cause cardiac arrest and sudden death, the terms don’t mean the same thing. Heart attacks are caused by a blockage that stops blood flow to the heart. A heart attack (or myocardial infarction) refers to death of heart muscle tissue due to the loss of blood supply, not necessarily resulting in the death of the heart attack victim.
Cardiac arrest is caused when the heart’s electrical system malfunctions. In cardiac arrest death results when the heart suddenly stops working properly. This may be caused by abnormal, or irregular, heart rhythms.
A common arrhythmia in cardiac arrest is ventricular fibrillation. This is when the heart’s lower chambers suddenly start beating chaotically and don’t pump blood. Death occurs within minutes after the heart stops. Cardiac arrest may be reversed if CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) is performed and a defibrillator is used to shock the heart and restore a normal heart rhythm within a few minutes.
Your heart muscle needs oxygen to survive. A heart attack occurs when the blood flow that brings oxygen to the heart muscle is severely reduced or cut off completely. This happens because coronary arteries that supply the heart muscle with blood flow can slowly become narrrow from a buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances that together are called plaque. When a plaque in a heart artery breaks, a blood clot forms around the plaque. This blood clot can block the blood flow through the heart muscle.
When the heart muscle is starved for oxygen and nutrients, it is called ischemia. When damage or death of part of the heart muscle occurs as a result of ischemia, it is called a heart attack or myocardial infarction. About every 34 seconds, someone in the United States has a heart attack.
Cardiomyopathy refers to diseases of the heart muscle. These diseases have many causes, signs and symptoms, and treatments. In cardiomyopathy, the heart muscle becomes enlarged, thick or rigid. In rare cases, the muscle tissue in the heart is replaced with scar tissue. As cardiomyopathy worsens, the heart becomes weaker. It’s less able to pump blood through the body and maintain a normal electrical rhythm. This can lead to heart failure or irregular heartbeats called arrhythmias. In turn, heart failure can cause fluid to build up in the lungs, ankles, feet, legs, or abdomen.
Cardiomyopathy can be acquired or inherited. “Acquired” means you develop it due to another disease, condition or factor. “Inherited” means your parents passed the gene for the disease on to you. Many times, the cause of cardiomyopathy isn’t known.
Heart failure is a chronic, progressive condition in which the heart muscle is unable to pump enough blood through to meet the body’s needs for blood and oxygen. Basically, the heart can’t keep up with its workload.
At first the heart tries to make up for this by:
– Enlarging. When the heart chamber enlarges, it stretches more and can contract more strongly, so it pumps more blood.
– Developing more muscle mass. The increase in muscle mass occurs because the contracting cells of the heart get bigger. This lets the heart pump more strongly, at least initially.
– Pumping faster. This helps to increase the heart’s output.
The body also tries to compensate in other ways:
– The blood vessels narrow to keep blood pressure up, trying to make up for the heart’s loss of power.
– The body diverts blood away from less important tissues and organs to maintain flow to the most vital organs, the heart and brain.
These temporary measures mask the problem of heart failure, but they don’t solve it. Heart failure continues and worsens until these substitute processes no longer work. Eventually the heart and body just can’t keep up, and the person experiences the fatigue, breathing problems or other symptoms that usually prompt a trip to the doctor.
The body’s compensation mechanisms help explain why some people may not become aware of their condition until years after their heart begins its decline. It’s also a good reason to have a regular checkup with your doctor.
Heart failure can involve the heart’s left side, right side or both sides. However, it usually affects the left side first.
Source: American Heart Association