You’re visiting this site right now because chances are you or a loved one has COPD – a lung disease. So, why is this a sharepost about the heart?
Your heart and lungs work closely together, as partners, and when one is compromised the other one works harder to compensate and get the job done. Your heart and lungs are workhorses, each doing their job – every second, every minute, every day – to make sure you have freshly oxygenated blood circulating through your body. The average heart beats about 100,800 times every day!
So today we’re going to talk about your heart and why it’s important to know a bit about it, and in the next sharepost we’re going to talk about some common cardiac tests.
Your heart is located between your two lungs, but towards the left side of your chest. A normal healthy heart is slightly larger than the size of your clenched fist. Your heart is a muscle.
Your heart has two sides, the right and the left; and two chambers in each side for a total of four chambers. The upper chambers are called atriums, and the lower chambers are called the ventricles. Each chamber holds the blood for a short time and then pumps it to the next stop so it can do its job – to carry blood through your body.
There is an opening between each chamber of your heart, with a valve over that opening. You can think of your heart valves something like a swinging saloon-type door, but it swings only one way. So, the blood enters a chamber, that chamber squeezes, the valve opens, and the blood moves into the next chamber or into a large blood vessel if it’s on its way out of the heart.
Electricity and the Pump
Very basically, you need to have two things to make your heart beat: Electrical impulses and the ability to pump.
An electrical impulse begins the process of a heartbeat by sending a message to your heart muscle to make it contract. That electrical impulse fires off another in an organized manner (in kind of a chain reaction) and follows the correct electrical path to the different areas of your heart. If the electrical impulses in your heart don’t follow the right path and are firing in a disorganized way – your heart muscle movement may become chaotic and not push the blood where it needs to go. Your heart could just twitch and flutter and not get anything done.
The other thing that has to happen to make your heart work properly is that when your heart muscle itself receives the message to contract it has to be strong enough to push the blood through each chamber or blood vessel. If your heart muscle is not strong enough to work, even if the electrical impulse is right, the heart will fail.
You can look at it this way: If the starter on your car is working fine, but the engine is not, your car will not go. On the other hand, your engine could be in tiptop shape, but if the starter or the spark plugs are not firing, your car will not go.
The lower left chamber of your heart (left ventricle) is very powerful because it has to pump blood that goes out to your entire body. The pressure in this chamber is normally higher than in the others. The lower right side of your heart (right ventricle) pumps blood to your lungs and is under less pressure.
How COPD can affect your heart
If you have COPD, you should know that there are ways that your lung disease can affect your heart. Not everybody with COPD has this, but one common disorder is called Cor Pulmonale (Core-pull-muh-nah´-lee).
Because the lungs are often congested and tight, there is increased pressure in the right ventricle of the heart and the pulmonary arteries that lead to the lungs. When the right ventricle is unable to properly pump against these abnormally high pressures, it causes high blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs (pulmonary hypertension). This leads to Cor Pulmonale and makes the right side of the heart weak. In addition, almost any chronic lung disease or condition involving prolonged low blood oxygen levels and high blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs can cause Cor Pulmonale.
Watch for my next sharepost when we’ll talk about common cardiac (heart) tests, what they involve and what your doctor – and you - can learn from them.
Jane M. Martin is a licensed respiratory therapist, teacher and the founder and director of http://www.Breathingbetterlivingwell.com and the author of Live Your Life With COPD: 52 Weeks of Health, Happiness and Hope and Breathe Better, Live in Wellness: Winning Your Battle Over Shortness of Breath.