Why understanding your heart and knowing any heart health risks is key
When you think of your heart, what do you think about? For many of us, it’s feeling. We think about making decisions from our heart, love for a significant other, or feeling a fast heartbeat when nerves arise.
With sayings like “follow your heart” and “the heart of the matter,” the idea of our hearts has become a part of our everyday vernacular. However, how often is it that you think about your actual heart?
The human heart is a fist-sized organ responsible for pumping blood throughout your entire body. It transports oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and removes carbon dioxide and other waste.
This February is American Heart Month. During this month, it’s our hope that when you think of your heart, it won’t just be related to Valentine’s Day. We hope you’ll join us in learning all the amazing things that your heart does every day, and how you can take better care of it, to have a healthy heart for years to come.
How does the human heart work?
Your heart’s primary job is collecting blood from the body and then pumping it to the lungs. Once your blood reaches the lungs, it receives oxygen. After collecting oxygen-rich blood from the lungs, your heart pumps blood to your entire body.
Your heart is composed of four chambers. The two top chambers, also called atriums, are responsible for collecting blood. The bottom two chambers, also called ventricles, are the ones responsible for pumping blood.
Your heart has four valves, which keep blood moving in the right direction. Each valve has flaps, which open and close during each heartbeat.
Common heart problems
Once you understand how your heart operates, it’s easy to see why our hearts are commonly associated with being at the center of everything we do. However, in addition to understanding how our hearts work, it’s just as important to understand the things that get in the way of our hearts operating correctly.
With the right choices, many heart conditions are preventable. The following lifestyle choices can have a major impact on your heart health:
- High LDL cholesterol, and low HDL cholesterol
- Not exercising
- Ongoing stress or anger
- High blood pressure
In addition to these factors, there are some that you can’t control. These include:
- A family history of heart disease
- Being post-menopausal
- Age (the older you are, the higher your risk)
- Gender (males have a higher risk)
Having problems with your heart is commonly referred to as heart disease or cardiovascular disease. Heart disease is an umbrella term that includes conditions such as coronary artery disease, congenital heart disease, arrhythmias, chest pain, and blocked blood vessels, which can lead to a heart attack.
Some of these conditions are accompanied with well-known symptoms. Shortness of breath, chest pain, numb arms or legs, lightheadedness, and a fast or slow heartbeat are a few common signs that indicate you may want to see your doctor.
However, it’s also important to know that some heart conditions have few or no symptoms at all.
How do I know my risk for heart disease and other heart conditions?
Because heart issues can arise without any signs, it is crucial that you understand your heart health risk. You can best understand your risk by knowing your family’s history, and getting established with a primary care physician.
Once a doctor understands your family history and your own health, he or she can help you better understand what you need to watch out for. Catching problems early is key.
We encourage everyone to know their risk. If you haven’t discussed heart health with your doctor, we are providing a free tool that helps you better understand your heart health risk. It only takes a few minutes, and you can print your results to discuss with your health care team.
Your first step is often the most important one. Take your first step to heart health, by taking our online risk assessment today.