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Do you know your heart

Updated on December 26, 2007

Did you give your friends valentines and little heart-shaped candies on Valentine's Day? Do you ever cross your heart when making a promise that you really, really mean? Or turn on the radio to hear a guy singing about his broken heart?

We see and hear about hearts everywhere. A long time ago, people even thought that their emotions came from their hearts, maybe because the heart beats faster when a person is scared or excited. Now we know that emotions come from the brain, and in this case, the brain tells the heart to speed up. So what's the heart up to, then? How does it keep busy? What does it look like? Let's find out.

Working That Muscle

Your heart is really a muscle. It's located a little to the left of the middle of your chest, and it's about the size of your fist. There are lots of muscles all over your body - in your arms, in your legs, in your back, even in your behind.

But the heart muscle is special because of what it does. The heart sends blood around your body. The blood provides your body with the oxygen and nutrients it needs. It also carries away waste.

Your heart is sort of like a pump, or two pumps in one. The right side of your heart receives blood from the body and pumps it to the lungs. The left side of the heart does the exact opposite: It receives blood from the lungs and pumps it out to the body.

We Got the Beat

How does the heart beat? Before each beat, your heart fills with blood. Then its muscle contracts to squirt the blood along. When the heart contracts, it squeezes - try squeezing your hand into a fist. That's sort of like what your heart does so it can squirt out the blood. Your heart does this all day and all night, all the time. The heart is one hard worker!

Heart Parts

The heart is made up of four different blood-filled areas, and each of these areas is called a chamber. There are two chambers on each side of the heart. One chamber is on the top and one chamber is on the bottom. The two chambers on top are called the atria (say: ay-tree-uh). If you're talking only about one, call it an atrium. The atria are the chambers that fill with the blood returning to the heart from the body and lungs. The heart has a left atrium and a right atrium.

The two chambers on the bottom are called the ventricles (say: ven-trih-kulz). The heart has a left ventricle and a right ventricle. Their job is to squirt out the blood to the body and lungs. Running down the middle of the heart is a thick wall of muscle called the septum (say: sep-tum). The septum's job is to separate the left side and the right side of the heart.

The atria and ventricles work as a team - the atria fill with blood, then dump it into the ventricles. The ventricles then squeeze, pumping blood out of the heart. While the ventricles are squeezing, the atria refill and get ready for the next contraction. So when the blood gets pumped, how does it know which way to go?

Well, your blood relies on four special valves inside the heart. A valve lets something in and keeps it there by closing - think of walking through a door. The door shuts behind you and keeps you from going backward.

Two of the heart valves are the mitral (say: my-trul) valve and the tricuspid (say: try-kus-pid) valve. They let blood flow from the atria to the ventricles. The other two are called the aortic (say: ay-or-tik) valve and pulmonary (say: pul-muh-ner-ee) valve, and they're in charge of controlling the flow as the blood leaves the heart. These valves all work to keep the blood flowing forward. They open up to let the blood move ahead, then they close quickly to keep the blood from flowing backward.

It's Great to Circulate

You probably guessed that the blood just doesn't slosh around your body, once it leaves the heart. It moves through many tubes called arteries and veins, which together are called blood vessels. These blood vessels are attached to the heart. The blood vessels that carry blood away from the heart are called arteries. The ones that carry blood back to the heart are called veins.

The movement of the blood through the heart and around the body is called circulation (say: sur-kyoo-lay-shun), and your heart is really good at it. It's so good at it that it takes less than 60 seconds to pump blood to every cell in your body.

Your body needs this steady supply of blood to keep it working right. Blood delivers oxygen to all the body's cells. To stay alive, a person needs healthy, living cells. Without oxygen, these cells would die. If that oxygen-rich blood doesn't circulate as it should, a person could die.

The left side of your heart sends that oxygen-rich blood out to the body. The body takes the oxygen out of the blood and uses it in your body's cells. When the cells use the oxygen, they make carbon dioxide and other stuff that gets carried away by the blood. It's like the blood delivers lunch to the cells and then has to pick up the trash!

Kidneys Are Filters

Each time the blood circulates from the heart out to the body, about 20% (one fifth) of it goes through the kidneys. The kidneys filter out some of the waste before the blood heads back to the heart.

The returning blood enters the right side of the heart. It takes the blood to the lungs for a little freshening up. Carbon dioxide is left in the lungs to be removed when we exhale. What's next? An inhale, of course, and a fresh breath of oxygen that can enter the blood to start the process again. And remember, it all happens in about a minute!

Listen to the Lub-Dub

When you go for a checkup, your doctor uses a stethoscope to listen carefully to your heart. A healthy heart makes a lub-dub sound with each beat. This sound comes from the valves shutting on the blood inside the heart.

The first sound (the lub) happens when the mitral and tricuspid valves close. The next sound (the dub) happens when the aortic and pulmonary valves close after the blood has been squeezed out of the heart. Next time you go to the doctor, ask if you can listen to the lub-dub, too.

Pretty Cool - It's My Pulse!

Even though your heart is inside you, there is a cool way to know it's working from the outside. It's your pulse. You can find your pulse by lightly pressing on the skin anywhere there's a large artery running just beneath your skin. Two good places to find it are on the side of your neck and the inside of your wrist, just below the thumb.

You'll know that you've found your pulse when you can feel a small beat under your skin. Each beat is caused by the contraction (squeezing) of your heart. If you want to find out what your heart rate is, use a watch with a second hand and count how many beats you feel in 1 minute. When you are resting, you will probably feel between 70 and 100 beats per minute.

When you run around a lot, your body needs a lot more oxygen-filled blood. Your heart pumps faster to supply the oxygen-filled blood that your body needs. You may even feel your heart pounding in your chest. Try running in place or jumping rope for a few minutes and taking your pulse again - now how many beats do you count in 1 minute?

Keep Your Heart Happy

Most kids are born with a healthy heart and it's important to keep yours in good shape. Here are some things that you can do to help keep your heart happy:

Remember that your heart is a muscle. If you want it to be strong, you need to exercise it. How do you do it? By being active in a way that gets you huffing and puffing, like jumping rope, dancing, or playing basketball. Try to be active every day!

Eat a variety of healthy foods and avoid foods high in unhealthy fats, such as saturated fats and trans fats.

Don't smoke. It can damage the heart and blood vessels.

So now you know that your heart doesn't look like a valentine, but it sure deserves to be loved for all the work it does. It started pumping blood before you were born and will continue pumping throughout your whole life.


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Angina and Chest Pain

are warning signs that you are headed for a heart attack

Sometimes you don't get a warning.

Forty percent of the people that experience a first time heart attack are unaware they have a problem. It's like being shot by a sniper. When a heart attack happens it’s too late and those forty percent are gone without a hope.

Almost everyone is at risk of having Heart Disease, and you don't have many good options that will reverse or prevent a Heart Attack. Drugs won't do it, controlling your cholesterol and blood pressure will only delay the big one for a little while. Bypass surgery and Angioplasty are somewhat effective but often have to be repeated every few years. The bad part of surgery is, it often causes physical and mental health problems and only address the worst blockages that are easy to get to.

The solution to eliminating most disease is to recognize the cause !

It's calcium that will kill you. Heart disease, occurs when calcium plaque accumulates on the walls of your arteries. Plaque restricts blood flow, leading to chest pain and arm pain (angina), shortness of breath, high blood pressure and heart attacks."

High Blood Pressure is the first Warning

High Blood pressure is caused by calcium plaque plugging arteries restricting blood flow. This causes the heart (our blood pump) to work harder, higher pressure is needed to keep the same amount of blood flowing in restricted arteries. You don't need to have to have all your arteries restricted, just one or two small blockages almost anywhere in your body can act like a dam, holding back blood flow and increasing blood pressure.

High Blood pressure is often the first warning sign you experience then the other symptoms of heart disease follow with chest and arm pain, tightness of the chest, numbness of the extremities, shortness of breath, and low energy.

Doctors are treating the wrong thing !

Doctors treat heart disease with: exercise, special "Low sodium, fat-free diets" and a wide variety of prescribed drugs that won't prevent a heart attack and are often the cause of more permanent health problems. Doctors prescribe cholesterol drugs that do nothing and can seriously damage your liver, kidneys, muscles and nerves. Cholesterol Drugs have never been proven to help or reverse heart disease.

What Is a Heart Attack?

A heart attack occurs when blood flow to a section of heart muscle becomes blocked. If the flow of blood isn’t restored quickly, the section of heart muscle becomes damaged from lack of oxygen and begins to die.

Heart attack is a leading killer of both men and women in the United States. But fortunately, today there are excellent treatments for heart attack that can save lives and prevent disabilities. Treatment is most effective when started within 1 hour of the beginning of symptoms. If you think you or someone you’re with is having a heart attack, call 9–1–1 right away.

Get Help Quickly

Acting fast at the first sign of heart attack symptoms can save your life and limit damage to your heart. Treatment is most effective when started within 1 hour of the beginning of symptoms.

The most common heart attack signs and symptoms are:

Chest discomfort or pain—uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain in the center of the chest that can be mild or strong. This discomfort or pain lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back.

Upper body discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.

Shortness of breath may occur with or before chest discomfort.

Other signs include nausea (feeling sick to your stomach), vomiting, lightheadedness or fainting, or breaking out in a cold sweat.

If you think you or someone you know may be having a heart attack:

Call 9–1–1 within a few minutes—5 at the most—of the start of symptoms.

If your symptoms stop completely in less than 5 minutes, still call your doctor.

Only take an ambulance to the hospital. Going in a private car can delay treatment.

Take a nitroglycerin pill if your doctor has prescribed this type of medicine.

Put an aspirin under your tongue. Aspirin reduces blood clotting and can help keep a heart attack from getting worse. But don’t delay calling 9–1–1 to take an aspirin.


Each year, about 1.1 million people in the United States have heart attacks, and almost half of them die. CAD, which often results in a heart attack, is the leading killer of both men and women in the United States.

Many more people could recover from heart attacks if they got help faster. Of the people who die from heart attacks, about half die within an hour of the first symptoms and before they reach the hospital.

Coronary Arteries

Because the heart is composed primarily of cardiac muscle tissue that continuously contracts and relaxes, it must have a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients. The coronary arteries are the network of blood vessels that carry oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood to the cardiac muscle tissue.

The blood leaving the left ventricle exits through the aorta, the body’s main artery. Two coronary arteries, referred to as the "left" and "right" coronary arteries, emerge from the beginning of the aorta, near the top of the heart.

The initial segment of the left coronary artery is called the left main coronary. This blood vessel is approximately the width of a soda straw and is less than an inch long. It branches into two slightly smaller arteries: the left anterior descending coronary artery and the left circumflex coronary artery. The left anterior descending coronary artery is embedded in the surface of the front side of the heart. The left circumflex coronary artery circles around the left side of the heart and is embedded in the surface of the back of the heart.

Just like branches on a tree, the coronary arteries branch into progressively smaller vessels. The larger vessels travel along the surface of the heart; however, the smaller branches penetrate the heart muscle. The smallest branches, called capillaries, are so narrow that the red blood cells must travel in single file. In the capillaries, the red blood cells provide oxygen and nutrients to the cardiac muscle tissue and bond with carbon dioxide and other metabolic waste products, taking them away from the heart for disposal through the lungs, kidneys and liver.

When cholesterol plaque accumulates to the point of blocking the flow of blood through a coronary artery, the cardiac muscle tissue fed by the coronary artery beyond the point of the blockage is deprived of oxygen and nutrients. This area of cardiac muscle tissue ceases to function properly. The condition when a coronary artery becomes blocked causing damage to the cardiac muscle tissue it serves is called a myocardial infarction or heart attack.

Superior Vena Cava

The superior vena cava is one of the two main veins bringing de-oxygenated blood from the body to the heart. Veins from the head and upper body feed into the superior vena cava, which empties into the right atrium of the heart.

Inferior Vena Cava

The inferior vena cava is one of the two main veins bringing de-oxygenated blood from the body to the heart. Veins from the legs and lower torso feed into the inferior vena cava, which empties into the right atrium of the heart.


The aorta is the largest single blood vessel in the body. It is approximately the diameter of your thumb. This vessel carries oxygen-rich blood from the left ventricle to the various parts of the body.

Pulmonary Artery

The pulmonary artery is the vessel transporting de-oxygenated blood from the right ventricle to the lungs. A common misconception is that all arteries carry oxygen-rich blood. It is more appropriate to classify arteries as vessels carrying blood away from the heart.

Pulmonary Vein

The pulmonary vein is the vessel transporting oxygen-rich blood from the lungs to the left atrium. A common misconception is that all veins carry de-oxygenated blood. It is more appropriate to classify veins as vessels carrying blood to the heart.

Right Atrium

The right atrium receives de-oxygenated blood from the body through the superior vena cava (head and upper body) and inferior vena cava (legs and lower torso). The sinoatrial node sends an impulse that causes the cardiac muscle tissue of the atrium to contract in a coordinated, wave-like manner. The tricuspid valve, which separates the right atrium from the right ventricle, opens to allow the de-oxygenated blood collected in the right atrium to flow into the right ventricle.

Right Ventricle

The right ventricle receives de-oxygenated blood as the right atrium contracts. The pulmonary valve leading into the pulmonary artery is closed, allowing the ventricle to fill with blood. Once the ventricles are full, they contract. As the right ventricle contracts, the tricuspid valve closes and the pulmonary valve opens. The closure of the tricuspid valve prevents blood from backing into the right atrium and the opening of the pulmonary valve allows the blood to flow into the pulmonary artery toward the lungs.

Left Atrium

The left atrium receives oxygenated blood from the lungs through the pulmonary vein. As the contraction triggered by the sinoatrial node progresses through the atria, the blood passes through the mitral valve into the left ventricle.

Left Ventricle

The left ventricle receives oxygenated blood as the left atrium contracts. The blood passes through the mitral valve into the right ventricle. The aortic valve leading into the aorta is closed, allowing the ventricle to fill with blood. Once the ventricles are full, they contract. As the left ventricle contracts, the mitral valve closes and the aortic valve opens. The closure of the mitral valve prevents blood from backing into the left atrium and the opening of the aortic valve allows the blood to flow into the aorta and flow throughout the body.

Papillary Muscles

The papillary muscles attach to the lower portion of the interior wall of the ventricles. They connect to the chordae tendineae, which attach to the tricuspid valve in the right ventricle and the mitral valve in the left ventricle. The contraction of the papillary muscles opens these valves. When the papillary muscles relax, the valves close.

Chordae Tendineae

The chordae tendineae are tendons linking the papillary muscles to the tricuspid valve in the right ventricle and the mitral valve in the left ventricle. As the papillary muscles contract and relax, the chordae tendineae transmit the resulting increase and decrease in tension to the respective valves, causing them to open and close. The chordae tendineae are string-like in appearance and are sometimes referred to as "heart strings."

Tricuspid Valve

The tricuspid valve separates the right atrium from the right ventricle. It opens to allow the de-oxygenated blood collected in the right atrium to flow into the right ventricle. It closes as the right ventricle contracts, preventing blood from returning to the right atrium; thereby, forcing it to exit through the pulmonary valve into the pulmonary artery.

Mitral Value

The mitral valve separates the left atrium from the left ventricle. It opens to allow the oxygenated blood collected in the left atrium to flow into the left ventricle. It closes as the left ventricle contracts, preventing blood from returning to the left atrium; thereby, forcing it to exit through the aortic valve into the aorta.

Pulmonary Valve

The pulmonary valve separates the right ventricle from the pulmonary artery. As the ventricles contract, it opens to allow the de-oxygenated blood collected in the right ventricle to flow to the lungs. It closes as the ventricles relax, preventing blood from returning to the heart.

Aortic Valve

The aortic valve separates the left ventricle from the aorta. As the ventricles contract, it opens to allow the oxygenated blood collected in the left ventricle to flow throughout the body. It closes as the ventricles relax, preventing blood from returning to the heart.

How the heart works, and how it can cause sudden death

In order to understand why sudden death can happen, it helps to understand how the heart works.

The heart is a specialised muscle that contracts regularly and continuously, pumping blood to the body and the lungs. The pumping action is caused by a flow of electricity through the heart that repeats itself in a cycle. If this electrical activity is disrupted - for example by a disturbance in the heart's rhythm known as an 'arrhythmia' - it can affect the heart's ability to pump properly.

The heart has four chambers - two at the top (the atria) and two at the bottom (the ventricles). The normal trigger for the heart to contract arises from the heart's natural pacemaker, the SA node, which is in the top chamber (see the diagram, right). The SA node sends out regular electrical impulses causing the atrium to contract and to pump blood into the bottom chamber (the ventricle). The electrical impulse then passes to the ventricles through a form of 'junction box' called the AV node (atrio-ventricular node). This electrical impulse spreads into the ventricles, causing the muscle to contract and to pump blood to the lungs and the body. Chemicals which circulate in the blood, and which are released by the nerves that regulate the heart, alter the speed of the pacemaker and the force of the pumping action of the ventricles. For example, adrenaline increases the heart rate and the volume of blood pumped by the heart.

The electrical activity of the heart can be detected by doing an 'electrocardiogram' (also called an ECG). An ECG recording looks something like the one shown below.

A death is described as sudden when it occurs unexpectedly, spontaneously and/or even dramatically. Some will be unwitnessed; some may occur during sleep or during or just after exercise. Most sudden deaths are due to a heart condition and are then called sudden cardiac death (SCD). Up to 95 in every 100 sudden cardiac deaths are due to disease that causes abnormality of the structure of the heart.

The actual mechanism of death is most commonly a serious disturbance of the heart's rhythm known as a 'ventricular arrhythmia' (a disturbance in the heart rhythm in the ventricles) or 'ventricular tachycardia' (a rapid heart rate in the ventricles). This can disrupt the ability of the ventricles to pump blood effectively to the body and can cause a loss of all blood pressure. This is known as a cardiac arrest. If this problem is not resolved in about two minutes, and if no-one is available to begin resuscitation, the brain and heart become significantly damaged and death follows quickly.

Heart Structure

of the

Cardiovascular System


The Heart is made up of a powerful muscle called Myocardium. The Myocardium is composed of cardiac muscle fibers that contracts and causes a wringing type of action. The size of you heart is a little larger than the size of your fist. The location of the heart is about left-center of your chest. The heart are two separate pumps that continuously sends blood throughout the body carrying nutrients, oxygen, and helping remove harmful wastes. The right side of the heart receives blood low in oxygen. The left side of the heart receives blood that has been oxygenated by the lungs. The blood is then pumped out into the Aorta and to all parts of the body. The Heart Diagram above and the information that follows will give a better understanding of the heart structure and how the blood circulates through the heart.

Right Atrium:

The Right Atrium is larger than the Left Atrium but has thinner walls. The Right Atrium has two major veins that returns blood to the heart from all parts of the body. Two major veins returning the blood to the heart are the Superior Vena Cava and the Inferior Vena Cava. These two veins are sometimes called the "Great Veins". The Superior Vena Cava returns the deoxygenated blood from the upper part of the body and the Inferior Vena Cava returns the deoxygenated blood from the lower part of the body. The Right Atrium also receives blood back from the heart muscle itself. After the blood is collected in the Right Atrium it is pumped into the Right Ventricle through the Tricuspid Valve (three leaf valve).

Left Atrium:

The Left Atrium receives blood from four Pulmonary Veins. The blood received from the lungs has been oxygenated. The oxygenated blood that is collected in Left Atrium is then pumped into the Left Ventricle through the Bicuspid Valve.

Right Ventricle:

The Right Ventricle receives blood from the Right Atrium. When the Heart contract the blood is forced out through the Pulmonary Semilunar Valve into the Pulmonary Artery. The Pulmonary Semilunar Valve is a three flap valve that stops the backflow of blood. The walls of the Right Ventricle are a little thicker than the Right Atrium.

Left Ventricle:

The chamber of the Left Ventricle has walls that are three times the thickness of the Right Ventricle. This is important because the oxygenated blood that it receives from the Left Atrium has to be pump throughout the body. The Bicuspid Valve closes and the blood is collected in the Left Ventricle. The closing of the Bicuspid Valve stops the backflow of blood. When the Heart muscle contracts the blood is forced through the Aortic Semilunar Valve which has the same features as the Pulmonary Valve. The blood then passes through the Aortic Semilunar Valve into the Aorta.


The Aorta is the largest blood vessel in the body. The inner diameter of the Aorta is about 1 inch. The Aorta carries oxygenated blood to every other part of the body. The Aorta receives it's blood from the Left Ventricle.


The Septum is a partition that separates the right and left sides of the Heart. There are two separate regions of the Septum. They are the Interatrial Septum that separates the Atriums and the Interventrial Septurm that separates the Ventricles. The Interatrial Septum is only present in the fetal period and is open during this period. The Interatrial Septum closes at the time of birth. The Interventrial Septum is suppose to be closed all the time but sometimes an opening is present at birth. This would be considered a Congenital heart disease.

Superior Vena Cava:

The importance of the Superior Vena Cava is to return blood back to the Right Atrium from the upper part of the body. It is one of the largest veins in the body.

Inferior Vena Cava:

The Inferior Vena Cava is important for carrying the blood back to the Right Atrium from the lower part of the body.

Pulmonary Arteries:

The Pulmonary Arteries carry the blood from the Right Ventricle to both of the lungs. There the blood is oxygenated and sent to the Left Atrium in the heart.

Pulmonary Veins:

The Pulmonary Veins carry the oxygenated blood back to the Left Atrium in the heart.


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    • profile image

      how to increase vertical 

      10 years ago

      I do agree with this.. You keep rocking... Thanks for the excellent Hub!... keep going on with the good process....This hubpage is very useful and filled with lots of interesting links stuffz...

    • LdsNana-AskMormon profile image

      Kathryn Skaggs 

      10 years ago from Southern California

      Oh my... now that is some great info on our heart.

      But, I still hold to the fact, that it is through the heart and mind - together - that we receive communication from God.

      So, this may not correlate with those theories that science would claim for the heart.

      The purpose of the heart is much more than a physical muscle for sustaining physical life, but -- it is truly the muscle of the spirit, and will bring eternal life to those who are receptive to acknowledging its presence for such - and its power to lead and guide us.

      Faith, is a product of the heart and those stirrings of that which we cannot explain with science...



    • ponnu profile image


      10 years ago from Mumbai

      well good hub and informative also.


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