Auntie Fee

The recent untimely deaths of Internet stars Auntie Fee (pictured above) and Q Worldstar serve as reminders that heart disease is the number 1 killer of men and women in the U.S.

For many people the first sign or symptom of heart disease is death. This is why heart disease is called the silent killer.

According to the CDC in Atlanta, 610,000 people die from heart disease in the United States every year. 17.5 million people died from heart disease around the world in 2012 alone.

heart diagram

The heart is a large muscle located in the center of the chest and slightly toward the left side of the sternum or breastbone. The heart is a pump that collects oxygen-poor blood and exchanges it for oxygen-rich blood, which is pumped out to the body.

The average adult body contains about 6 quarts of blood. The body’s entire volume of blood cycles through the heart every 16 minutes.

heart diagram

The heart consists of 4 chambers — the 2 atria (right atrium, left atrium) and 2 ventricles.

Here’s what happens each time your heart beats: Oxygen-poor blood from the body pours into the right atrium via the superior and inferior vena cavas. When the heart rests the blood drains into the right ventricle through a valve. When the heart contracts (beats), the right ventricle pumps oxygen-poor blood to the lungs via the pulmonary arteries. The blood picks up oxygen in the lungs and returns to the left atrium via the pulmonary veins. When the heart contracts, the left ventricle pumps oxygen-rich blood out to the body through the aorta to supply oxygen and nutrients to the other vital organs such as the brain, liver and kidneys.

The video below will explain this process more clearly.

Blood pressure measurement is a very important tool to help clinicians diagnose hypertension that can lead to heart disease. There are two types of blood pressure measurements: arterial and venous.

Central venous pressure (CVP) is usually measured in an inpatient setting.

Arterial blood pressure is the most common blood pressure measurement. It is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) with a blood pressure cuff device and a stethoscope. Electric and battery operated models are available for home use.

Normal blood pressure is 120/80.

The top number is called systole or systolic, which is usually less than 120. The bottom number is called diastole or diastolic, which is usually less than 80.

The systolic (top) number measures the pressure inside the arteries when the heart (ventricles) contracts. The diastolic (bottom) number measures the pressure between beats when the heart is at rest.

If blood pressure is consistently elevated above 140/95 mm Hg (hypertension), it can lead to heart disease, heart attack and stroke.

heart diagram

Your coronary arteries lie outside the heart and feeds the heart muscle with oxygen and nutrients. Plaque buildup inside the coronary arteries is called atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries (heart disease or coronary artery disease).

Plaque consists of deposits of fat, cholesterol, calcium, fibrin, and other waste products that are not filtered by your kidneys.

This buildup of plaque can go undetected for years because there are usually no signs or symptoms.

The plaque buildup causes hardening or narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis), which slowly blocks the flow of blood to the heart muscle.

It’s worth mentioning again that this buildup of plaque can go undetected for years because there usually are no signs or symptoms. That’s why monitoring your blood pressure and checking your LDL “bad” cholesterol level are so important!

If the plaque ruptures inside the artery, white blood cells rush to the site to form a clot. As the clot grows it occludes the blood vessel completely, resulting in tissue death of the heart muscle (myocardial infarction). This is also referred to as a heart attack.

Factors such as hypertension, smoking or high cholesterol can damage the inner lining of blood vessels.

You should call 911 or go to the emergency room ASAP if you experience any of the following signs and symptoms:

  • Chest pain (angina)
  • Pain radiating to left arm
  • Shortness of breath with or without exertion
  • Coughing
  • Cold sweats and night sweats
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Palpitations (rapid heartbeat)
  • Rapid breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Disorientation (from lack of oxygen)
  • Jugular vein distention (see explanation below)
  • Blue fingertips or lips
  • Cold fingers
  • Swelling in the legs and feet
  • Fatigue or weakness

  • heart diagram

    Jugular vein distention (JVD) is one of the signs of heart disease or heart failure. Jugular vein distention usually presents as a rope like bulge on the side of the neck (see photo above). The jugular vein is distended because of increased venous pressure in the large veins going to the right side of the heart.

    If you are 40, don’t exercise, are a smoker and drinker, and you eat fatty, fried foods from fast food restaurants, your chances of being diagnosed with heart disease or atherosclerosis increases significantly.

    Once you develop plaques in your arteries, they are generally there to stay. Your doctor can place a metal mesh stent in your artery through a thin tube in your arm or leg. This outpatient procedure is called an angioplasty.

    The stent can keep the artery walls open and prevent more plaque buildup, but the stent cannot prevent future heart attacks. Plaque can buildup anywhere in your body. If the plaque breaks off and travels to your brain or lungs it can cause a stroke.

    You can prevent heart attacks by reducing or controlling lifestyle risks that lead to atherosclerosis:

  • Quit smoking
  • Control high cholesterol
  • Monitor high blood pressure and take your BP meds
  • Control diabetes
  • Reduce stress
  • Eat fruits and vegetables throughout the day
  • Limit alcohol intake (one drink for women, 1 or 2 drinks for men)
  • Exercising daily (talk to your doctor first)

  • This has been your Medical Minute.

    Watch the video below to see what happens during a heart attack.

    WARNING: this video is extremely intense and may cause increased anxiety if you are vulnerable to panic attacks.


    Any medical information published on this blog is for your general information only and is not intended as a substitute for informed medical advice. You should not take any action before consulting with your personal physician or a health care provider. and its affiliates cannot be held liable for any damages incurred by following information found on this blog.