All over the world people associate love with hearts. If there is no love, than there is destruction of the relationship. When the physical heart is not pumping oxygen adequately, there is destruction of cells or no life. The heart is a symbol of life. There is a relationship between the physical health of the heart and psychology. The heart has many vital functions, and it seems reasonable for all to develop new ways to maintain its strength and to learn how to take care of it.
The word cardiac means “related to the heart” which originates from the Greek term kardia, for “heart”, and, is the specialty of cardiology in today’s’ medical field. The role of the heart is to pump blood which supplies oxygen to every living organ and cell throughout the body. Yet heart disease continues to grow at a rapid rate in this century. This rise in heart disease, particularly in industrialized countries, is primarily do to changes in diet and lifestyle. Heart Disease has become the leading cause of death in America, averaging almost 700,000 lives a year, or 29 percent of annual deaths. Throughout the world, 7.2 million people, die from heart disease on a yearly basis.
How the Heart Functions
The heart is around the size of your fist and weighs and 300 to 350 grams (11 to 12 oz.) in males and almost 250 to 300 grams (9 to 11 oz.) in females. This organ accelerates up or slows down in reaction to nerve signals from the brain which explains degrees of physical exertion. It contracts and relaxes between 70 and 80 times per minute, beats around 80,000 to 100,000 per day, and pumps almost 2,000 gallons of oxygenated blood throughout the system. This task is preformed without conscious awareness as this organ is a specialized muscle (involuntary) that constantly beats.
There are four champers of the heart, 2 champers on each side. The upper one is the atrium, and the lower one is the ventricle. The heart acts as two pumps for the circulatory system. The right atrium of the heart receives blood which is non-oxygenated then delivers blood to the right ventricle then to the lungs in which the blood absorbs oxygen. Without oxygen, all cells die. The heart supplies the body with a fresh supply of oxygen and nutrients, and assists in removing hazardous waste material. The left atrium receives oxygenated blood from the lungs to supply all organs and cells of the body with oxygen. This blood also administers hormones from the glands and nutrients from the digestive system. The cells in the immune system travel in the bloodstream seeking out infection, and forward the body’s waste material to the kidneys and liver to be filtered out and excreted.
The Hearts Electrical System and the EKG
The heart’s four chambers contract or beat in an orderly manner that is regulated by an electrical stimulus. A chamber contracts when an electrical impulse moves across a specific path. This stimulus begins in a small collection of unique cells in the right atrium, called the sinus node (SA node). A discharge from these vital “pacemaker” cells causes the heart to contract. These cells in the pacemaker section of the heart generate electrical impulses. The electrical stimuli produced by the cells in the SA node travel through the right and left atrium, causing the cells of the muscle to contract, and then it proceeds down the specialized cell passage through the ventricles. The signal’s arrival causes the ventricles to contract simultaneously squeezing and pumping the blood forward along the path.
The route of this electrical stimulation is physiologically determined and brings about a coordinated, ordered contraction of the heart’s four chambers, know as the heart rhythm. This electrical heart rhythm is measured routinely when people have the diagnostic test called the EKG. Doctors are measuring the hearts electronic path for signs of injury.
The physical connection to psychology is that emotional reactions can change the hearts rate of electrical discharge. People can learn to manage emotional reactions, therefore, reduce the stress that it places on the heart and at times may reduce heart rates. One example is that heart rates can be managed and affected by physical exercise.
How the Heart relates to Blood Pressure
There are two stages of the heartbeat
- First Stage Systole: is when the ventricles of the heart are squeezing or contracting which results in blood being pumped out to the lungs and forward to the remainder of the body. This is the top number of the blood pressure.
- Second Stage Diastole: Is when the ventricles of the heart are relaxing. During this stage, the atriums of the heart are filling with blood. This is the bottom number of the blood pressure and is when the hearts ventricles are in a relaxed state.
What Are the Physical Illnesses Related to the Heart?
Cardiovascular disease includes several specific diseases. These conditions either affect the blood vessels which are veins and arteries leading to and from the heart or the heart muscle. Research suggests that women who have cardiovascular disease tend to develop forms which affect blood vessels, while men develop conditions that involve the heart muscle itself. Illnesses such as diabetes mellitus, hypertension, and hypercholesterolemia are known associated causes of cardiovascular disease.
Angina Pectoris is a heart disease that causes severe mid chest pain or discomfort on the left side the chest. Angina can cause pain in the jaw, throat, stomach, and between the shoulder blades. This discomfort is caused by the thickening of arteries supplying blood to the heart. (Coronary Atherosclerosis) The widening of the arteries provides less blood flow to the heart muscle thereby causing pain.
Aortic Aneurysm is a bulge or out pouching of the main artery, the aorta. These bulges can occur in the abdomen below the kidneys or in the chest cavity. The aneurysm occurs when the lining of the aorta becomes weakened and thin by the build up of plaque. Aneurysms are dangerous because of the possibility of them rupturing causing massive bleeding.
Atherosclerosis is the disease process caused by plaque build up (cholesterol, fatty substances) in the inner linings of artery. Over time, the plaque ruptures the lining, which in turn causes blood clots. These blood clots inhibit blood flow to the cells causing them to die. Complications of a blocked artery can cause gangrene, heart attacks and strokes.
Cardiomyopathy in the strict sense means “heart muscle disease” (cardio= heart myo=muscle, pathy=disease) It is the breakdown in functioning and physical health of the heart muscle. Those diagnosed with cardiomyopathy are at risk of developing arrhythmia’s (irregular heart rhythms) and/or sudden cardiac death. There are two types of Cardiomyopathy, dilated and hypertrophic.
Dilated Cardiomyopathy is when the heart cavity is inflamed and is more common. Progression of the illness includes the development of arrhythmias and congestive heart failure.
Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy is the development or thickening of the wall between the ventricles causing a blockage in blood flow. Physical symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath, fainting and dizziness.
Congenital Heart Disease is a mistake that occurs in the development of heart before birth and is when the blood vessels near the heart or the heart muscle itself forms improperly. Researchers and physicians often do not understand the cause of these defects; however, some attribute the mistakes in development to viral infections or drug and alcohol abuse during pregnancy.
Congestive Heart Failure is a chronic disease that tends to deteriorate over time. It is characterized by the hearts inability to keep up with the amount of blood flow in any of the four chambers. Congestive Heart Failure usually begins with left-sided heart failure and affects the functioning of the left ventricle. At times, heart failure occurs on the right-side and can involve the entire heart muscle.
Coronary Artery Disease is diagnosed when the arteries around the heart become hardened and narrow because of plaque build up (atherosclerosis). This gradual build up of plaque can lead to a chest pain, heart arrhythmias, heart failure and heart attacks.
Coronary Heart Disease refers to the hearts inability to provide sufficient circulation to surrounding tissues and the cardiac muscle. It is often associated with Coronary artery disease. However, coronary heart disease can have other causes, such as spasm. Conditions caused by Coronary Heart Disease are Myocardial Infarction (heart attack) and Angina Pectoris (chest pain).
Heart Murmurs are defined by faulty heart valves, which lead to regurgitation of blood or a constricted passage of blood through the valves opening. Heart murmurs can be caused by fevers and toxins during pregnancy. A systolic murmur can be heard when the heart muscle contracts. The diastolic murmurs occur when the heart muscle relaxes in between beats. Heart murmurs can sound remarkably soft to exceptionally loud and there unique sounds can be identified and heard with a stethoscope.
Peripheral Vascular Disease is of two types. Organic peripheral vascular diseases are characterized by abnormal blood vessels surrounding the heart and brain. This illness can cause narrowing of the blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrients to the kidneys, stomach, arms and legs. Functional peripheral vascular diseases do not show abnormalities in blood vessels’ and are caused by spasms. Symptoms include numbness, a cramping pain, and may include skin discoloration.
Hypertensive Heart Diseases are caused by high blood pressure. Illnesses include Congestive heart failure, Coronary heart disease, Cardiac arrhythmias, Left ventricular hypertrophy and Hypertensive cardiomyopathy.
Inflammatory Heart Disease is inflammation of the tissues surrounding the heart or heart muscle. The most common structures affected are the heart valves. Endocarditis is a well known condition which is the inflammation of the inner lining of the heart. (Endocardium)
Valvular Heart Disease is the process that affects one or more heart valves. There are four major heart valves which may be affected by this illness, the aortic and mitral valves in the left side of the heart, and the aortic and tricuspid valves in the right side of the heart.
What are the Risk Factors for Heart Disease?
- Genetics’ or a positive family history of chronic heart disease is known to increase the risk.
- Hypertension or elevated blood pressure accelerates the atherosclerosis process especially if hyperlipidemia or high triglycerides are present. This combination plays a significant role in development of heart attacks. However, heart attacks can be prevented and managed if people are diagnosed early and if they understand the recommended dietary treatment plan and follow instructions.
- Diabetes Mellitus: The risk of developing a serious heart disease is two to three times more among diabetics. Type 2 Diabetes is a highly preventable disease.
- High Cholesterol (Normal <200 mg/dl) Cholesterol has two components, the low density lipoprotein (LDL) and high density lipoprotein (HDL). LDL is the most directly associated with Coronary Heart Disease. However, High density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is considered to be protective against development of Coronary Heart Disease. (It should be more than 40 mg/dl).
- Oral Contraceptive Pills lead to higher systolic and diastolic blood pressure, thus increasing cardiac risk.
- Being Overweight is associated with high rates of cardiovascular deaths and heart failure with different rates among men and women. Obesity affects the blood pressure, increases levels of lipids in the blood, and increases the risk for developing Type 2 Diabetes.
- Smoking: The toxins in the cigarettes are considered to be one of the main causes of development of atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a thickening of the walls of arteries which result from the accumulation of fatty plaques, scaring and hardening of the walls.
- Physical Inactivity is associated with high risk because inactivity increases the lipid levels in blood. Physical inactivity and diet are considered to be leading causes of obesity, lipid panel abnormalities, elevation of blood pressure and diabetes mellitus.
- Alcohol Intake of more than three drinks a day has a harmful effect on the heart muscle. Heavy drinking raises the triglyceride level by supplying excess fats into the body circulation. Over time, heavy drinking can damage the heart and leads to high blood pressure, stroke and congestive heart failure.
- Multiple Risk Factor Combinations: Increased body weight is a good example of a risk factor for heart disease that plays a role for development of other risk factors, like increase lipids level in blood (hyperlipidemia), elevation of blood pressure (hypertension) and other diseases like diabetes mellitus. Multiple risk factors significantly increase ones chances of developing heart disease.
In conclusion, the stopping of the heart beat always results in death and, we have applied this concept today in our everyday language. People associate love with hearts, if there is no love, than there is destruction of the relationship. When the heart is not pumping oxygen adequately, there is destruction of cells or no life. It seems reasonable for all of us to develop new ways to maintain its strength and to learn how to take care of it. This is the work of the health psychologist using a biological, psychological and sociological approach strategy.
Health Psychologists enhance the recovery of cardiac patients by providing tools to cope with life and ways to manage the physical changes associated with the disease. Health psychology focuses on primary and secondary prevention of heart disease by utilizing strategies to address the emotional and behavioral barriers in making lifestyle changes.
This article is the first in a series of many and was intended to provide basic educational information. I look forward to writing more on the specific ways to maintain heart health and associated diseases in upcoming articles.
Dr. Cheryl MacDonald, RN., Psy’D.
Health Psychology of San Diego
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