We all know that cardiovascular health is important. But do you know how your heart works? As an illustration, Mark Moronell, MD, cardiologist with Kettering Physician Network Heart & Vascular, explains how your heart is just like your house.
The rooms of the heart
“Your heart has rooms, just like your house,” Dr. Moronell says. “It has four rooms: the two chambers on top are the atria and the two on the bottom are the ventricles. They are separated by doors, called valves.”
When blood comes into the heart from the rest of the body, that blood goes through the valves into the lower chamber of the heart. When the lower part of the heart squeezes and the heart beats, these valves—or doors—slam shut and two more open to let the blood flow out to your lungs.
Plumbing and electricity
Just like a house has plumbing pipes, your heart has arteries. “When people have heart attacks, they have a sudden blockage in one of their main arteries,” says Dr. Moronell.
The heart, just like a house, also has an electrical system. “The electrical system starts in the right upper chamber of your heart and, as it works its way through, is very similar to taking a pebble and dropping it in water so that ripples move out.”
Dr. Moronell explains that atrial fibrillation (AFib) can be thought of as a problem with the electrical circuitry of the heart. “AFib is a very common irregular heartbeat problem where the top part of your heart is beating very fast and irregularly and the bottom is trying to keep up.”
A heart in need of repair
A heart that isn’t working properly can look a few different ways:
Leaky heart valves: In these cases, Dr. Moronell explains, a person’s heart door, or valves, might look more like a western saloon door. “It’s not quite this dramatic, but it’s a door that supposed to slam shut and often doesn’t. And when those doors don’t shut right, blood can go the wrong way and back out the door that it just came in.”
Heart murmurs: “If you stand in your garden with a hose in your hand, the water will flow out of the hose. But if you put your finger over the opening, it will make a different sound. Why? Because you’ve narrowed the opening of the hose. The same amount of water is coming out, but it has to go more forcefully and faster. This is the same with a heart murmur,” explains Dr. Moronell. “If you have a narrowed valve, the blood flowing sounds different, like if you had your finger over the hose in your garden.”
Know your numbers
Dr. Moronell stresses the importance of knowing your heart health numbers: “There are two blood pressure numbers we check. The systolic component is the top number, when your heart is squeezing, and the bottom number is for diastolic, when your heart relaxes for the next fill.”
A high systolic blood pressure can lead to headaches, blurry vision, dizziness, and sometimes shortness of breath, and exercise intolerance.
To lower your risk for heart disease, focus on a nutritious diet, get regular exercise, and reduce any risk factors, like losing weight or quitting smoking. “And if you have a family history of heart disease, you need to get on board with doing all you can to lower your risk now rather than later,” says. Dr. Moronell. “You’re never too old and you’re never too young to start.”
Get it check
Schedule a heart screening to learn more about your risk for heart disease.