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FAQ about Heart

How does the heart work?
The heart is actually a muscle that works like a pump in distributing blood throughout the body. The heart has four chambers. The two at the top are the left and right atria and the two at the bottom are the left and right ventricles. Blood vessels lead in and out of these chambers.
Oxygenated blood from the lungs flows into your heart and is then pumped out to the rest of your body. Once the blood has delivered the oxygen to the tissues of the body, it returns to your heart and gets pumped back out to the lungs where it will be re-oxygenated.
How does blood flow through the heart?
Your heart muscle is a very efficient pump that delivers blood, oxygen and nutrients to your body.
The heart has four chambers - two on the right and two on the left. Both sides of the heart work together. The right side pumps blood into the lungs and the left side pumps blood into the organs and tissues of your body.
After your blood flows through the body, its life-giving oxygen and nutrients have been depleted. To replenish the oxygen and revitalize the blood, it must pass through the heart and then into the lungs again.
Right side: First the oxygen-depleted blood enters the heart through two large veins, the inferior and superior vena cava and then flows into the right atrium. From the right atrium, it passes through the tricuspid valve and then into the right ventrical. The blood is then pumped through the pulmonary valve and into the lungs.
Once in the lungs, carbon dioxide is removed and oxygen is added to the blood.
Left side: The pulmonary vein empties oxygen-rich blood, from the lungs, into the left atrium. From here, the blood flows from your into your left ventricle through the open mitral valve and finally, it is pumped through the aortic valve into the aorta - the blood vessel that feeds all of the other parts of your body.
When the ventricles are full, the mitral and tricuspid valves close. This prevents blood from flowing backward into the atria while the ventricles contract (squeeze) or "pump." This pattern is repeated continuously throughout your life, causing blood to flow continuously to the heart, lungs and other parts of the body.
How does the heart beat?
The atria and ventricles work together by alternately contracting (squeezing) 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 this beating possible.
What and where are the coronary arteries?
The heart requires oxygen to function properly. But the blood that is pumping through the heart does not supply oxygen to the heart muscle itself. Special blood vessels attached to the outside of the heart, called coronary arteries, supply the heart with oxygen and nutrients needs. Three major arteries and a number of smaller vessels are designed to perform this function.
What is a Heart Attack, Myocardial Infarction?

When one or more of the coronary arteries is obstructed or blocked - usually due to blood clot formation in the blood vessel - the blood cannot reach the heart muscle on the other side the blockage. Usually within 20 minutes of not receiving the oxygen-rich blood it needs, parts of the heart muscle stop functioning, thus leading to a heart attack. A heart attack - also called a myocardial infarction or MI - is the result of loss of function (pumping or contracting ability) of the damaged portion of the heart.

What are the symptoms of a heart attack?

People who experience a heart attack often feel they are being squeezed by a vice or a heavy weight has been placed on their chest. Others report a stabbing, knifelike or hot, burning sensation. The pain can last for as long as 30 minutes - or sometimes it may even last for hours. Changing the position of the body during a heart attack will not decrease or increase the amount of pain. Some patients experience no chest pain at all (this is called a "silent heart attack").

Some patients describe pain shooting down the arms (usually the left arm) with a tingling sensation in the wrists, hands, and fingers. Still other patients report feeling pain in the shoulders, neck, and jaw. Additional symptoms include indigestion or heartburn, nausea, vomiting, palpitations, cold sweats, weakness, dizziness, cough, fainting, dry mouth, and anxiety.

Men and women may generally experience the same symptoms during a heart attack. Women sometimes describe their chest pain differently. For men, chest pain is usually more localized, while women may say that their chest pain is more widely distributed.

Although many heart attack victims report some form of chest pain, people over age 75 and diabetics often do not feel chest pain and may only feel like they are having indigestion (heartburn) or shortness of breath. However, this is not a general rule. People under age 75 can also have silent heart attacks, which do not involve chest pain.

Heart attacks are a major cause of sudden death in adults. It is estimated that someone in the United States suffers a heart attack approximately every 30 seconds. Many people think that heart attacks are an old man's disease, but men and women are both affected. Of those who die from heart attacks, 48 percent are women. In fact, more women die from heart disease than from all forms of cancer combined.

What should I do if I think I'm having a heart attack?

If you are experiencing chest discomfort and any of the symptoms listed above, you or someone close to you should call a doctor immediately. If you have symptoms but are not sure if you are having a heart attack, call your doctor immediately. There is a strong tendency to deny that you may be having a heart attack. Postponing or delaying medical treatment can cost you your life. Studies have shown that one out of three people die from a heart attack within the first few hours of experiencing chest pain. Getting to a hospital as quickly as possible is probably the single most important factor in surviving a heart attack.

The following are specific guidelines to follow if you think you are having a heart attack:

People over age 75, diabetics, or people with a history of previous heart attack should seek immediate medical attention - even if they are only experiencing nausea, indigestion, or shortness of breath without chest pain.
If your doctor has given you nitroglycerin tablets, put one under your tongue when the symptoms begin and repeat at five-minute intervals for a total of three doses. If the symptoms have not disappeared within 15 minutes, call a doctor immediately.
Do not take nitroglycerin tablets unless directed by a doctor. Taking nitroglycerin under the wrong circumstances may result in problems.
If you think you are having a heart attack, chew one aspirin. If you are experiencing a heart attack it will be of benefit, but it will not cause harm if you are not.
If you are with someone whose heart has stopped beating, call a doctor immediately. Administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) immediately.
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