By JOANNE PALLLOTTA, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Correspondent

No bigger than the size of your closed fist, the mighty muscular organ known as the heart is responsible for pumping blood throughout the network of vessels that make up your body’s circulatory system. “The heart is a very cool machine!” exclaims Pablo Quintero Pinzon, MD, a heart failure cardiologist in the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. So, we had a little “heart to heart” with Dr. Quintero Pinzon about some basic, interesting and perhaps, not so well known cardiovascular facts.

(Credit: iStockphoto)

(Credit: iStockphoto)

Heart of the Matter

Did you know that the heart begins beating four weeks after conception? And, after that, your heart beats more than 100,000 times a day or roughly 70 beats per minute, pushing through some 2,000 gallons (5 liters per minute) of blood a day. And that “thump-thump” sound that is the heart beat? Those are the four valves inside your heart closing. “The valves closing allow blood to move forward,” says Dr. Quintero Pinzon. “That closing is what you hear.”

And while we pledge allegiance with our hand over the left side of our chest, in reality, the heart sits in the center in between the lungs with part of it slightly to the left.

By the way, your heart is not the color red. It’s more of a brown and the surface of the heart has deposits of fat called epicardial fat that make the surface look yellow.

Men v. Women

The appearance might be the same but when it comes to the heart, men and women are not created equal. Take, for instance, the weight and rate at which it beats. An average man’s heart weighs 10 ounces with an average heart rate of about 70 beats per minute. Compare that to a woman’s, that weighs less – about 8 ounces — but beats a little faster at 78 beats per minute.

There may also be a difference in men and women when it comes to symptoms of a heart attack. Dr. Quintero Pinzon says women may not present with the classic pain or pressure in the middle of the chest that men feel more often. Some of those atypical symptoms include: indigestion, nausea/vomiting, shortness of breath, fatigue, malaise, pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.

Monday Mornings

And what about that theory that people are more likely to suffer a heart attack on a Monday morning than any other day of the week? Dr. Quintero Pinzon says there are multiple factors that could potentially contribute to this event including higher blood pressures, stickier platelets and higher levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. He says, “It may put an environment in your heart that could promote plaque rupture blocking the flow of blood to the heart.” This, combined with, perhaps the stress of going back to work after a relaxing weekend are thought to increase the likelihood of a heart attack.

Feel the Beat

Why does the heart beat faster when someone is scared? Your body’s reaction to fear is called the “fight or flight” response. It’s a physiological reaction that happens when a person perceives that he or she is in harm’s way, about to be attacked or there is a threat to survival. “When you are scared, the sympathetic system gets activated and helps you ‘run away’ from danger,” says Dr. Quintero Pinzon. To help you run away, he says you need to pump more blood throughout your body, especially to your muscles. “In order to do that, your heart rate will go up.”

What about exercise? It’s not the same as being scared. “During exercise, the sympathetic system gets activated as well,” says Dr. Quintero Pinzon. “However, regular exercise has other long term benefits like decreasing blood pressure, improving lipid profile, decreasing systemic inflammatory markers and helps you achieve a better weight. All this translates in less cardiovascular events long term.”

Broken Heart

There is such a thing as a “broken heart.” It’s called takotsubo cardiomyopathy. Takotsubo is a sudden temporary weakening of the muscular portion of the heart in the absence of coronary artery disease that may be caused by emotional stress such as a death, a break up, or anxiety. “It is more common in women and heart function typically recovers in one to four weeks,” says Dr. Quintero Pinzon. “But, some patients can develop important complications during the event, for example, clot formation inside their heart which can potentially break off and travel anywhere.”

Humor and the Heart

Staying heart healthy is no laughing matter but the bottom line is laughing may actually benefit you. Research suggests it can lead to the reduction of the stress hormones and keep our blood vessels from constricting thus, increasing the flow. So, it might seem that laughter may be the best medicine.

Being Polite

“Bless you” is often said when someone sneezes because there is a common belief that the heart skips a beat or stops altogether when you sneeze. But Dr. Quintero Pinzon debunks that thought. In fact, the only time the heart actually stops is during cardiac arrest. Now that you know the truth though, don’t let this fact keep you from being polite.

Heart Healthy

Dr. Quintero Pinzon is passionate about his work and considers the heart the most important organ in the body. He acknowledges that while you can’t change some situations, like genes, he stresses the simple ways you can stay “heart healthy” are by working with your physician to reduce your risk factors (high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity), stop smoking, maintaining a healthy diet, and getting plenty of exercise.

You can learn more about Cardiovascular Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, including the programs and services offered along with the latest cutting-edge technology and treatment by clicking here.

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted March 2015

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