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The NSPA Blog

Heart Beats

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Posted on February 20th, 2020 by Bettina Carlson, under Heart Disease, Patient Advocacy, Tips & Resources

Heart Basics

We all know that our heart beats and beats and beats, working hard for us. But do we know what actually happens when our heart beats? 

First of all, our heart is a muscular organ. “An organ is a group of tissues that work together to perform a specific function. In the case of your heart, this function is pumping blood throughout your body. Additionally, the heart is largely made up of a type of muscle tissue called cardiac muscle. This muscle contracts when your heart beats, allowing blood to pump through your body.” (https://www.healthline.com/health/is-the-heart-a-muscle)

The heart beats about 100,000 times to send 3,600 gallons of blood through 75,000 miles of blood vessels each day. Blood has many different functions, including transporting nutrients and oxygen, and carrying cells and antibodies that fight infection to where those are needed; and carrying waste products to the kidneys and liver, which filter and clean the blood.  (https://www.hematology.org/Patients/Basics/)

Don’t you agree, wow, what an incredible organ our heart is! 

Risk Factors

However reliably hard our heart beats for us, it can still be harmed for several reasons. And damage to the heart and the cardiovascular system can be life-threatening. As a matter of fact, heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. 

The root of heart and vascular disease oftentimes are clogged arteries, caused by various factors over the years. As fatty deposits build up, forming,  plaque in the arteries, the inside of the arteries begins to narrow, which lessens or blocks the flow of blood.  When plaque breaks open, blood clots can form on the plaque and block the flow of blood. 

What are the risk factors or habits that may contribute to clogged arteries and puts a person at risk of heart disease? 

Here are risk factors for heart disease:

  • High blood pressure
  • Unfavorable cholesterol, especially high LDL
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes and prediabetes
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Lack of physical activity 
  • High and constant stress
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Age 
  • Family history of early heart disease 

Of these risk factors, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking are key risk factors, and about half of Americans have at least one of these three. 

While some risk factors, such as age and family history cannot be changed, we have some control over the other risk factors! We will talk about healthy heart tips in our next blog post. 

Know the Differences

You probably have heard the terms Cardiovascular Disease, Coronary Heart Disease, or Heart Disease. They all sound somewhat the same, don’t they? They certainly are often used interchangeably. However, they are not the same. In the following, instead of reinventing the wheel, I’m sharing the easy to understand basic facts straight from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s Know the Difference Fact Sheet. (https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/all-publications-and-resources/know-differences-cardiovascular-disease-heart-disease-coronary-heart-disease)

Cardiovascular Disease – The big umbrella

Cardiovascular Disease is the term for all types of diseases that affect the heart or blood vessels, including coronary heart disease (clogged arteries), which can cause heart attacks, stroke, congenital heart defects and peripheral artery disease

More than 800,000 people die of cardiovascular disease every year in the United States. 

Coronary Heart Disease – A type of heart disease

Coronary Heart Disease is often referred to simply as “heart disease,” although it’s not the only type of heart disease. Another term for it is coronary artery disease

Coronary heart disease occurs when play (a combination of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances found in the blood) builds up in your arteries. You may have heard this called clogged arteries or atherosclerosis.

The plaque reduces the amount of oxygen-rich blood getting to your heart, which can cause chest pain (also called angina). Plaque can also lead to blood clots, which block blood flow and are the most common cause of a heart attack. 

About 366,000 Americans died from coronary heart disease in 2015.

Heart Disease – A type of cardiovascular disease

Heart Disease is a catch-all phrase for a variety of conditions that affect the heart’s structure and function.

Keep in mind – all heart diseases are cardiovascular diseases, but not all cardiovascular diseases are heart disease.

The most common type of heart disease is coronary heart disease. In fact, when people talk about “heart disease” they often mean coronary heart disease. 

About 630,000 Americans die from heart disease each year. 

11.7% of  American adults (that’s more than 1 of every 10) have been diagnosed with heart disease. 

Stay Tuned

Don’t you agree, it’s easy to see that our heart is an incredible organ! Its heartbeat is music to our ears and life to our bodies. And while there are risk factors that can disrupt and threaten this beat, luckily we have quite some control over others. 

In our next blog post, we will empower you with heart-healthy tips. 

We will also empower you with a list of warning signs of heart attack, stroke and cardiac arrest so you can act quickly should you find yourself or someone else in such an emergency. 

Sources and Information 

National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/all-publications-and-resources/know-differences-cardiovascular-disease-heart-disease-coronary-heart-disease

CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm

American Heart Association. https://healthmetrics.heart.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/At-A-Glance-Heart-Disease-and-Stroke-Statistics-–-2019.pdf (please copy and browse into a search engine)

National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Homepage. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov

American Heart Associations. https://www.heart.org

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