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Pathology of the HEART - The Cardiovascular System

Updated on December 6, 2015
mahsa setareh profile image

Mahsa graduated with a degree in molecular biology and is studying for the MCAT to pursue further studies in pathology and immunology.

Pathology Of The Heart

Let's start from the gross anatomy of the heart first. Your heart is located between your lungs in the middle of your chest, behind and slightly to the left of your breastbone (sternum). A double-layered membrane called the pericardium surrounds your heart like a sac. The outer layer of the pericardium surrounds the roots of your heart's major blood vessels and is attached by ligaments to your spinal column, diaphragm, and other parts of your body. The inner layer of the pericardium is attached to the heart muscle. A coating of fluid separates the two layers of membrane, letting the heart move as it beats.

Your heart has 4 chambers. The upper chambers are called the left and right atria, and the lower chambers are called the left and right ventricles. A wall of muscle called the septum separates the left and right atria and the left and right ventricles. The left ventricle is the largest and strongest chamber in your heart. The left ventricle's chamber walls are only about a half-inch thick, but they have enough force to push blood through the aortic valve and into your body. When working properly, deoxygenated blood coming back from organs enters the heart through the major vein, known as the vena cava. From there, it enters the right atrium, passes through the tricuspid valve, and into the right ventricle. The blood then flows through the pulmonary valve, into the pulmonary trunk, through one of two pulmonary arteries, and out to the lungs where it receives oxygen.

The heart’s four chambers are:

  • Right atrium: This chamber receives oxygen-depleted blood returning from the body and pumps it into the right ventricle.
  • Right ventricle: The right ventricle pumps blood from the right atrium to the pulmonary artery that sends the deoxygenated blood to the lungs, where it picks up oxygen.
  • Left atrium: This chamber receives oxygenated blood from the lungs and pumps it to the left ventricle.
  • Left ventricle: The thickest of all the chambers, the left ventricle is the hardest working part of the heart as it pumps blood throughout the whole body.

The heart has four valves that separate each chamber so that, under normal conditions, blood cannot flow backwards.

  • Tricuspid (Right AV) valve: This valve is located between the right atrium and right ventricle.
  • Pulmonary valve: The pulmonary valve is the checkpoint where deoxygenated blood leaves the right ventricle on its way to the lungs.
  • Mitral (Left AV) valve: The mitral valve is located between the left atrium and left ventricle.
  • Aortic valve: This valve prevents blood from back-flowing into the left ventricle as it is sent out to the entire body through the aorta.

Often times you will feel that your heart is beating so fast that it might even feel as if it's coming out of your chest. At this moment the heart can go into what is known as Tachycardia - Tachycardia is faster than a normal heart rate at rest. Tachycardia is caused by something that disrupts the normal electrical impulses. A healthy adult heart normally beats 60 to 100 times a minute when a person is at rest. During tachycardia there may be no symptoms. However, tachycardia can seriously disrupt normal heart function, increase the risk of stroke, or cause sudden cardiac arrest or death.

Other times the heart will go into Bradycardia - Bradycardia is a slow heart rate or irregular heart rhythm. A normal heart beats 60 to 100 times per minute, which is necessary to supply oxygen-rich blood to the body. Those with bradycardia experience a heart rate of less than 60 beats per minute, which gives them dizziness, shortness of breath, and even fainting spells.

When your heart, the arteries around your heart or your other blood vessels are damaged, this pumping system doesn’t work properly. Such problems are collectively known as cardiovascular disease and lead to the death of 191,000 people a year. Long-term excessive drinking increases your risk of developing problems with your heart. Now let's get a little bit into heart disease, there are lots of different types of heart disease. Coronary heart disease is the most common type of heart disease and can lead to sudden death from a heart attack. It’s caused by the gradual build-up of fatty deposits on the walls of the arteries in your heart (the coronary arteries) on which blood clots may form.

Now that we have that covered, the next big thing to cover is Myocardial Infractions - better known as Heart Attack. Heart attacks are the most common result of coronary heart disease. Someone has a heart attack when their coronary arteries become blocked. This stops blood supply to the heart’s muscles meaning it can’t get the oxygen it needs. Starved of oxygen, the heart can’t pump properly, and in severe cases it may effectively stop beating altogether which can kill you. Damage to the heart muscle can lead to heart failure when your heart can no longer pump blood around your body normally.

Drinking more than the lower risk guidelines regularly and over a long period of time can increase your risk of developing heart disease. This is because, drinking at this level can: Increase the risk of high BP (Blood Pressure). Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol causes raised blood pressure which is one of the most important risk factors for having a heart attack or a stroke. Increases in your blood pressure can also be caused by weight gain from excessive drinking. There are certain times in a person's life that alcohol can have the worst affect on them. Let's see what some of those are:

  • A personal or family history of alcohol abuse
  • A personal or family history of liver disease or pancreatitis
  • Heart failure, cardiomyopathy ( hereditary disease of the heart muscle), uncontrolled high blood pressure, arrhythmia (irregular heart rhythm), history of sudden cardiac death or stroke, or high triglycedrides.
  • Had a heart attack (alcohol can cause further damage to the heart muscles)
  • Diabetes (alcohol affects your blood glucose levels)

Now let's talk about how smoking can affect not only your lungs but also the heart, which is the driving force of your body. Any amount of smoking, even light smoking or occasional smoking, damages the heart and blood vessels. For some people, such as women who use birth control pills and people who have diabetes, smoking poses an even greater risk to the heart and blood vessels. Secondhand smoke also can harm the heart and blood vessels. Secondhand smoke is the smoke that comes from the burning end of a cigarette, cigar, or pipe. Secondhand smoke also refers to smoke that's breathed out by a person who is smoking. Secondhand smoke contains many of the same harmful chemicals that people inhale when they smoke. Secondhand smoke can damage the hearts and blood vessels of people who don't smoke in the same way that active smoking harms people who do smoke. Secondhand smoke greatly increases adults' risk of heart attack and death. Do you know what these harmful chemicals do to your body? Let me give you some examples of what happens to your body and your heart during the process.

  • Nicotine makes your heart rate and blood pressure rise
  • Carbon monoxide and tobacco rob your heart, brain and arteries of oxygen.
  • It damages your blood vessels and makes your blood sticky – the start of blood clots.
  • It lowers your tolerance for physical activity and decreases HDL (good) cholesterol.

According to WebMD, if you are thinking about quitting it probably will be tough for a while, but it's worth it. You may crave cigarettes, be irritable, feel hungry, cough often and have headaches, or have trouble concentrating. These symptoms of withdrawal happen because your body is used to nicotine, the active addictive agent within cigarettes. You'll probably notice it most during the first 2 weeks after quitting. When it happens, remember why you're quitting. Tell yourself that these are signs that your body is healing and getting used to being without cigarettes.



If you are concerned about how your alcohol use is affecting your health, or having irregular heart beats visit your MD for an appointment or make a one with the cardiologist. Do not smoke while you are pregnant or expecting, this may lead to miscarriage or death in the unborn fetus. You have bring down your chances of having a heart attack if found early.*SMOKING MAY CAUSE CANCER*

Thanks, M

The Heart

Different types of hearts
Different types of hearts
Inside the heart - Anatomy
Inside the heart - Anatomy
The heart
The heart
Different parts of the heart
Different parts of the heart

Functions and Structures - Heart

Circulatory System

Pathology Of The Heart

5 out of 5 stars from 2 ratings of Heart Pathology

© 2015 Mahsa S

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    • mahsa setareh profile imageAUTHOR

      Mahsa S 

      2 years ago

      I will do a Pathology of the brain too..it will be a great topic, thank you for he suggestion

    • profile image

      brooklyn 

      2 years ago

      the brain please!

    • mahsa setareh profile imageAUTHOR

      Mahsa S 

      2 years ago

      Ill be posting more articles soon!

    • profile image

      Aj 

      2 years ago

      I like your hubs, looking forward to more

    • mahsa setareh profile imageAUTHOR

      Mahsa S 

      2 years ago

      thank you for your comments

    • profile image

      Natelie 

      2 years ago

      Thank you for all these great hubs

    • mahsa setareh profile imageAUTHOR

      Mahsa S 

      2 years ago

      That's great, I hope that my pathology articles will be able to help you more in depth as to the functions of the organs and the body

    • profile image

      ivy 

      2 years ago

      i'm a first year pre med student just started university and this is so interesting

    • mahsa setareh profile imageAUTHOR

      Mahsa S 

      2 years ago

      Penny- My next hub will be on the Kidneys! Should check it out soon!

    • profile image

      pennyJ 

      2 years ago

      you should just do one on every organ of the body, thanks for the hub

    • profile image

      Demming 

      2 years ago

      Nice hub, thanks

    • mahsa setareh profile imageAUTHOR

      Mahsa S 

      2 years ago

      Jackie - Yes I will take your suggestion and do one on the pancreas

      Nathan - Thank you very much!

    • profile image

      Nathan hemming 

      2 years ago

      This is so cool, i like the hubs!!

    • profile image

      Jackie 

      2 years ago

      Can i suggest a hub on the pancreas?

    • profile image

      Micheal 

      2 years ago

      Thanks, best article and very good and clear pictures. Love you.

    • profile image

      Sophie 

      2 years ago

      The heart is really cool, actually the whole body in general is nice, thanks for this hub!

    • mahsa setareh profile imageAUTHOR

      Mahsa S 

      2 years ago

      Thank you everyone!

      I will publish another hub pretty soon on Ebola, make sure to check out my page! :)

    • profile image

      Annamarie 

      2 years ago

      i like this article too, I'm looking forward to more

    • profile image

      Grace. S 

      2 years ago

      I love the hubs you wrote and the pictures are wonderful thanks

    • profile image

      Jan 

      2 years ago

      Can you do more pathology articles? I would love to read them.. they are very good. Thanks for the great hubs

    • mahsa setareh profile imageAUTHOR

      Mahsa S 

      2 years ago

      Thank you Kate, I will be writing more so please be sure to check my page for more

    • profile image

      Kate 

      2 years ago

      This is a great hub! Thank you

    • mahsa setareh profile imageAUTHOR

      Mahsa S 

      2 years ago

      @Haroon - Thank you very much. Yes it's very interesting to see the heart from the inside.

    • profile image

      Melanie 

      2 years ago

      I like the pathology articles!

    • profile image

      Suzzana 

      2 years ago

      Yeah same thing, this is first time I've seen the inside of a heart. Love your hubs!

    • Haroon Shehzad profile image

      Haroon Shehzad 

      2 years ago from Punjab Pakistan

      Very informative article about heart pictures are very clear, first time saw a picture of heart from inside

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