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Conditions We Treat Part I : Understanding the function of the human heart

Hello, everyone!


Over the next few weeks, we'll be taking a closer look at the medical conditions our organization supports for treatment. Our focus will be on understanding these conditions and the methods we employ to address them. Upcoming articles will cover both the common conditions that we regularly assist with and the rarer ones that, while infrequent, are still an important part of our mission.


As a quick reminder, our process for selecting patients for surgery is based on highly specific medical criteria, as shown in the table below. These criteria will serve as the foundation for our discussions as we explore various cardiovascular conditions. Our primary categories include congenital heart diseases, valvular heart diseases, and pectus excavatum pathologies. Any conditions outside of these three categories will receive dedicated coverage in future articles, so please stay tuned for that.



Before we dive into the specifics, let's take a moment to acknowledge the essential role of the human heart in our daily lives. We'll also briefly touch on cardiovascular anatomy and physiology to provide context for our discussions about the specific conditions we treat.

 

Heart Functions

​Oxygen transport

​The heart delivers oxygen to every nook and cranny of our bodies, ensuring that our vital organs receive the life-sustaining oxygen they require. This delivery is achieved through a complicated network of blood vessels, particularly the arteries, which carry oxygen-rich blood away from the heart to all parts of the body.

Nutrient and hormone distribution

Beyond oxygen, the heart is the transporter for the multitude of hormones and essential nutrients that our body relies upon daily. In the bloodstream, it orchestrates the delivery of these vital substances, ensuring they reach every cell and tissue where they are needed.

Toxin elimination

Our heart also acts as a custodian, facilitating the removal of toxins and waste products from our bloodstream. This cleaning process is managed by the circulatory system, which transports harmful substances to the appropriate organs, such as the liver and kidneys, for filtration and elimination.

Blood pressure regulation

Another indispensable role of the heart is the regulation of blood pressure through skillfully adjusting the force with which blood is pumped, adapting to the body's requirements, and ensuring a constant flow of blood to all organs and tissues.

 

Heart Anatomy


1) The heart has three distinct layers of tissue and one protective sac called the pericardium


2) Four chambers make up the heart - two on the left and two on the right


3) The two upper chambers are the atria, and the two lower chambers are the ventricles. These left and right sides of the heart are separated by a wall of muscle called the septum.



4) The right side of the heart receives blood that is low in oxygen. It then pumps this blood to your lungs, where it picks up a fresh supply of oxygen. Then it returns to the left side of the heart, ready to be sent back out to the brain and the rest of your body.


5) The heart has four valves that act as gates, keeping blood moving in the correct direction.



* The images above are courtesy of the Elite Cardiovascular Group. Please visit: www.elitecardiovascular.com/cardiovascular-conditions/cardiac-conditions/basics-of-the-heart/ to view more of their cardiovascular anatomy images.


 

Heart Physiology


Analogy: think of your cardiovascular system as the climate control system in your house.

  1. The Heart is the Central Furnace: Imagine your heart as the central furnace, which not only heats but also circulates the warm water (blood) throughout the house (your body). The heart's electrical impulse system serves as the thermostat, regulating when and how often the furnace pumps.

  2. Blood Vessels as Pipes: Your blood vessels are like a complex network of pipes. Arteries are the larger pipes that carry the warm, oxygen-rich blood away from the heart and into different rooms (organs and tissues) of your house (body). Veins, on the other hand, are the smaller pipes that return the cooler, oxygen-depleted blood back to the furnace (heart) for reheating.

  3. Blood as the Warm Water: In this analogy, blood is the warm water itself. It carries oxygen and nutrients, acting as both the heat source and nourishment for each room (organ and tissue) in your body. Just as the water warms the rooms, blood delivers energy and warmth while also collecting waste products (like used-up air in a heating system).

  4. Atria and Ventricles as Control Valves: Within the heart, there are specialized chambers known as atria and ventricles. Think of these as control valves within the furnace. The atria receive the cooled, oxygen-depleted blood from the veins and gently guide it into the ventricles, which act like powerful pumps. The ventricles then contract, sending a surge of warm, oxygen-rich blood through the arteries to every room in your body.

  5. Hemodynamics - Blood Flow Regulation: The heart's electrical system serves as the control panel for the furnace. It regulates how fast and efficiently the furnace pumps, ensuring the warm water circulates evenly throughout your house. Similarly, the heart's electrical signals (electrophysiology) regulate the heartbeat, which determines the pace and strength of blood circulation in your body.

In this way, your cardiovascular system is somewhat similar to a climate control system that relies on both the hemodynamics of blood flow and the electrophysiology of the heart's electrical activity to ensure that each "room" in your body remains well-nourished and at the right temperature. Just as a well-maintained climate control system keeps your home comfortable, a healthy cardiovascular system ensures your body functions optimally, supplying oxygen and nutrients while efficiently removing waste products.


 

This concludes all of the content for part I of our series on "Conditions We Treat." Stay posted for our next article on congenital heart pathologies - atrial septal defects, ventricular septal defects, tetralogy of Fallot, truncus arteriosis, etc. Please feel free to reach out with any questions or comments in the meantime!


Best,

Nick

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