The heart is a muscular organ containing four chambers that pump blood through a network of arteries and veins called the cardiovascular system.
The upper two chambers of the heart are called the atria. These two chambers collect the blood returning to the heart and push it into the larger pumping chambers called the ventricles. The ventricles then contract to force the blood either out to the lungs or to the other major organs in the body.
The right ventricle receives the blood from the right atrium and pumps this blood to the lungs where it becomes filled with oxygen. The left atrium then receives this oxygenated blood from the lungs and pumps it to the left ventricle. The left ventricle is the strongest chamber of the heart as it has to pump the oxygen-rich blood around your body to all the organs such as the brain, kidneys, bowel and liver.
The heart is controlled by the Autonomic Nervous System of the brain that tells the heart to speed up or slow down depending on the body’s needs.
Problems with the Heart
- Coronary ArteriesThe heart is supplied with blood through the coronary arteries. This blood carries oxygen and nutrients which are required for healthy heart tissue. If blockages develop in the coronary arteries, blood supply around the body can be reduced which may cause some of the heart muscle to die. This is referred to as a heart attack or myocardial infarction.Symptoms of a heart attack include:• Breathlessness• Feeling faint• Diaphoresis (sweating)• Nausea• Pain or discomfort in the chest known as angina
- AtherosclerosisAtherosclerosis is the most common cause of blockages in the heart. It is a condition where fatty narrowings or blockages develop in the coronary arteries that supply the heart with blood.There are a number of factors that are thought to contribute to this build up of plaque such as:• Smoking• High blood cholesterol• High blood pressure• Lack of regular structured exercise such as brisk walking• Diabetes• Family history – people who have close family relatives with heart disease can be more at riskTreatments for blockages in the coronary arteries include:• Medications• Coronary Angiogram• Angioplasty• Coronary Artery Stents• Coronary Artery Bypass Graft (CABG) Surgery.
Cardiovascular disease is one of the most common causes of death in Ireland. To find out more information about how to avoid Cardiovascular disease, check out our Preventing Cardiovascular Disease page.