September 28, 2021
It’s got ventricles, valves, and veins… and atria and arteries and when we’re sad, it can sometimes change its shape. This World Heart Day, we’re giving some much needed love to our love muscle. Here’s a deep dive into what makes your ticker, well… tick!
For starters, your heart makes sure oxygenated blood reaches all parts of your body. Without it, well, none of your organs or cells would function optimally. In approximately 115,000 beats every day, your heart will push out about 5 litres of O2 rich blood. And if you’re pregnant, your volume of blood will increase to about 7.5lt.
An interesting relationship exists between our heart and our emotions. You may be familiar with the condition ‘Broken Heart Syndrome’ in which someone who is in the grip of grief may suffer cardiac injury. Busamed’s heart specialist Dr. André Saaiman says our heart muscle has a very intimate relationship with our emotions. “When we are grieving loss, no matter what that loss is, our nervous system responds to the distress and triggers activities like fight, flight or freeze. Our heart is tuned into these instructions and responds by beating faster or conserving energy and constricting vessels, for example.” Particularly in these Covid times, broken heart syndrome or “takotsubo cardiomyopathy” can present symptoms that resemble a heart attack. Says Dr. Saaiman, “In broken heart syndrome, the structures of the heart can weaken quite substantially over time owing to the intense stress or grief of the loss and the duration of trauma. A romantic breakup, the loss of a job and especially the death of a loved one are major life events to endure. It was originally described in Japan in 1990 and is now reported worldwide. It was named “takotsubo” cardiomyopathy because during the acute phase of the syndrome, the left ventricle bulges and takes on a balloon shape. The word ‘takotsubo’ comes from the name for a pot used by Japanese fishermen to trap octopuses. When the left ventricle of the heart changes shape, it develops a narrow neck and a round bottom making it looks similar to the octopus trap. It can develop at any age, but typically affects more women than men.”
An electrical charge is needed for even a single heartbeat to occur. “We have a group of cells called the sinoatrial node that generates this charge which causes the heart to contract. It’s found in the atria which is found in one of the upper chambers of the heart.” Dr. Saaiman says with this charge, blood is squeezed into the ventricles (the chambers at the bottom of the atria) and this action pushes the blood out into the body. “After a complete cycle has passed, your heart relaxes, and the atria fills with blood again.”
Incredibly, every cell in the heart has the ability to start a heartbeat. Dr. Saaiman, an expert in electrical conditions of the heart, says he believes that if everyone knew the tremendous power of the heart, looking after it would be second nature. “The heart has fail-safes in place, especially if the sinoatrial cells start to malfunction. But all this means is that we should be taking proactive measures to maintain its proper functioning.”
It was the movie Dirty Dancing starring Patrick Swayze that first introduced us to the rhythm of the heart and movement. That “ga-ghum ga-ghum” Swayze was talking about is the sound of valves rhythmically closing as blood is pumped in and out of the chambers.
“… so that is what causes a normal sound of the heart. But every so often when I listen to heart, I will hear a whooshing, humming, or rasping sound between heartbeats. That is a heart murmur, and it lets me know that I need to investigate further. Noisy blood flow within the heart is definitely not normal but is absolutely treatable.”
We don’t often think of the work of heart found in our chests; you must agree that it’s pretty difficult not to admire. Cardiovascular disease is a very present threat in our society, claiming 17.9 million lives every year, globally. Getting regularly screened is fast and easy and will give you peace of mind that no other intervention can. As it turns out, prevention is still better than cure.
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