How's Your Heart Pumping?

The heart is a muscle that works like a pump distributing blood throughout the body. Human Heart

"Oxygenated blood from the lungs flows into your heart and is 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," according to the Capital Cardiology Associates in Albany, NY.

The four-chambered muscle is divided in half but works together. The left-ventricle and left-atria pump blood into the organs and tissues of the body, while the right-ventricle and right-atria pump blood into the lungs.

"Special blood vessels attached to the outside of the heart, called coronary arteries, supply the heart wiht oxygen and nutrient needs," according to Capital Cardiology. "Three major arteries and a number of smaller vessels are designed to perform this function."

What blocks the flow?

Boy Flowing Down a Slide

The term, heart disease, encompasses sever terms. However, the most commonly associated condition is coronary heart disease or CHD, which can lead to heart attack and other serious conditions.

CHD occurs when the coronary arteries become hardened or narrowed due to plaque buildup, called atherosclerosis. Plaque is a mixture of fatty substances including cholesterol and other lipids. Growing plaque can reduce or even fully block blood flow to the heart.

CHD can lead to heart attack because without blood flow the heart fails to function. Heart muscle cells may not receive enough oxygen and begin to die.

"The more time that passes without treatment to restore blood flow, the greater the damage to the heart," according to the Center for Disease Control. "This damage can cause irregular heart rythms or even sudden cardiac arrest or stopping of the heart beat. Death can result. Coronary artery disease is the chief underlying cause of a heart attack. A less common cause of a heart attack is a severe spasm of a coronary artery that reducse the blood supply to the heart."

When the blood supply wanes, the heart constricts.

"The high chest area burns, like heart burn," described Wanda Loope, a 61-year-old heart attack survivor. "A burning and a tightness together is what you feel, like you just put a hand inside your body and squeezed it real tight."

Pain spreads to your arm or jaw, Loope continued. "I felt sweaty and out of breath, too."

Emergency care is necessary to treat heart attacks and other heart conditions. Modern medicine can treat this disease with stents, tiny, wire metal mesh tube used to prop open an artery. Other procedures include bypass surgery and other methods. See the sidebar links for more information.