How a Healthy Heart Works
Think of your heart as a two-sided pump nestled between your lungs. The right side receives blood from your body and pushes it to your lungs to replenish it with oxygen. The left side pushes this nutrient-rich blood back out to your body. The cycle repeats as your heart beats -- driving blood through a network of blood vessels that comprise your circulatory system.
The Structure of Your Heart
The two sides of your heart are divided by a muscular wall. Each side is divided again into two chambers. Each upper chamber is called an atrium. The lower chambers are called ventricles. The upper and lower chambers are connected by valves that open and close to guide the flow of blood. Your heart beats control your blood flow. They are triggered by electrical signals that set the rhythm and frequency of your heart beats.
Blood Vessels Connecting to Your Heart
Two large veins – the largest in the body – serve as canals carrying oxygen depleted blood from the body back to the heart. The superior vena cava carries blood from the arms and brain. The inferior vena cava carries blood from the lower half of your body. Both veins deposit that blood into the right atrium – the upper chamber on the right side of the heart.
Heart Valves and How They Function
That oxygen depleted blood pusheed from the right atrium to the lower chamber of your heart called the right ventricle through a valve called the tricuspid valve.
The right ventricle contracts to squeeze blood to your lungs through the pulmonary valve to the pulmonary artery which dlivers blood to the lung.
After your blood resupplies with oxygen in the lungs, it brought back to the left atrium which pushes the blood to the left ventricle through the mitral valve. Then, the left ventricle pushes blood through the aortic valve into the aorta. The aorta branches into a succeeding series of blood vessels called arteries, arterioles, and capillaries to deliver blood throughout the body.
Understand Your Heart Valves
The heart valves are equipped with flaps, called leaflets, that open and close to keep the blood from flowing backward into the chamber it came from. Healthy blood flow is vital because carries a constant resupply of oxygen throughout your body. When the heart valves are damaged or working improperly, your heart and other organs at risk.
Valve disease can affect one or more of the four valves in the heart. There are two types of valve dysfunction:
- Regurgitation - The valve’s leaflets do not fully close or the edges do not fully meet, which causes blood to leak back into the chamber it came from.
- Stenosis - The leaflets cannot open fully to allow enough blood to flow through.
One way to understand regurgitation and stenosis is to think of a door. A door opens one way and closes very firmly in the other. That’s how a healthy valve works, too. But when a valve doesn’t close firmly, blood can leak through (regurgitation). And, if the valves get stuck, like hinges in a door can over time, the blood has trouble getting through (stenosis). Both stenosis and regurgitations causes tubelance in the blood flow which produce what is called “heart murmur”
Some problems with the valves are present at birth (congenital valve disease) while others develop over time as we age (acquired valve disease).