When Things Go Wrong With Your Heart

Woman Making Heart Shape with Hands

September 6, 2016

Did you know that your heart beats up to 100,000 times a day to pump blood, oxygen and nutrients around your body – that’s up to 3 billion heartbeats during an average lifetime. But what happens when this amazing muscle suddenly stops working the way it should?

This month the Heart Foundation’s Big Heart Appeal is taking centre stage and we think there is no better time to make a point. Your heart health matters.

How the heart works:

Your heart sits in your lower chest, on the middle-left. It’s about the size of a clenched fist. The heart’s job is to pump blood round your body, delivering the oxygen and nutrients your body needs to be healthy and work properly.

As stated by the Heart Foundation:

A normal heart has 2 sides – left and right, separated by a muscular wall. Each side has 2 chambers:

  • Atrium: a smaller upper chamber
  • Ventricle: a larger lower chamber that pumps.

Valves control the direction the blood flows between atrium and ventricle.

The left side of your heart pumps blood out around your body to deliver oxygen and nutrients.

When the blood comes back to your heart after travelling round your body, it’s low in oxygen. Your heart’s right side collects the returning blood, and pumps it to your lungs to collect oxygen. The oxygen-rich blood is then sent to the left side to start the process again. The left ventricle is bigger than the right, because it has to pump blood further round the body.

Blood is pumped around your body through a network of blood vessels. Your heart and these blood vessels make up your circulatory system.

  • Arteries carry the oxygen-rich blood from your heart to deliver it to your body. Coronary arteries are special arteries that supply the heart as a muscle with blood to keep it working well.
  • Capillaries are tiny blood vessels that connect arteries and veins. Capillaries carry blood to the body cells where oxygen and nutrients are delivered, and waste is taken away.
  • Veins carry the blood from your body back to your heart after the oxygen and nutrients are delivered. By now the blood is low in oxygen and needs to pass through the lungs again and receive more oxygen.

When things go wrong:

Some heart problems happen from birth. Some heart problems can be hereditary (passed on through families). Others develop over time because of lifestyle and other factors, which in most cases are preventable.

According to ESSA, the most common of these preventable conditions are heart attack and stroke (!)

A heart attack occurs when the small coronary arteries feeding the heart muscle with blood become suddenly blocked by a blood clot. This is usually caused by a rupturing of fatty cholesterol plaques that have built up over time in the walls of the arteries although clots can arrive from elsewhere in the body.

In either case, the sudden blockage deprives some of the heart muscle of the blood and oxygen it needs to function and if this goes on for long enough then that area of heart muscle will cease to function and die.

A stroke occurs in exactly the same way in the small arteries of the brain – although a second, less common type of stroke involves the artery rupturing instead of blocking and causing internal bleeding within the brain.

Sounds pretty terrible right?

Lifestyle factors:

Most heart disease risk factors can be changed, and there’s plenty you can do about them. Here are the Heart Foundation’s top 8 lifestyle habits to get into shape!

1. Smoking Being smoke free is one of the best ways to protect your heart. If you are a smoker, you should stop. Read about smoking and your heart.2. High cholesterol

An imbalance of cholesterol in your blood can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Find out more about blood cholesterol and how to manage it.

3. High blood pressure

Blood pressure isn’t usually something you can feel. If it’s too high, it needs to be treated. Read about blood pressure  and what you can do to control high blood pressure

4. Diabetes

It’s important to manage your diabetes to help prevent a heart attack or stroke. For information on managing diabetes, visit the Diabetes Australia website.

5. Being inactive

Not getting enough physical activity and sitting too much isn’t good for your heart health. Find out what you can do to be more active.

6. Being overweight

Being overweight or obese increases your risk of heart disease and other health problems. The best thing you can do is to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Exercise can not only prevent development of cardiovascular disease, it can also help treat and alleviate symptoms of a number of cardiovascular conditions.

7. Unhealthy diet

Eating a varied diet of healthy foods can help with your weight, blood pressure and cholesterol. Find out more about healthy eating.

8. Depression, social isolation and lack of quality support

We know that there can be a greater risk of heart disease for people who have depression, are socially isolated or do not have good social support. Having a good social life with family and friends can help. Depression is more than feeling sad or low. If you feel depressed for more than two weeks, talk to your doctor, a family member or someone you know well.

People who can help:

If you know you need to make some changes, you are not alone. Make an appointment with your GP or give our team a call to discuss ways to improve your lifestyle, and give your heart some love!

Bodyfit NT Programs:

Bodyfit NT’s Cardiac Health Exercise Program is a phase three program, providing the next step in self-management and rehabilitation for clients continuing on from Healthy Living NT’s Healthy Heart Program. Delivered by an accredited Exercise Physiologist university trained in the delivery of exercise as a medically recognised treatment, the Cardiac Health Exercise Program provides clients with support and guidance to make necessary changes in the management of their condition. Click here to read more.