Frequently Asked Heart Questions
How does the heart work?
The heart is actually a muscle that works like a pump, distributing blood through the body. The heart has four chambers. The two top chambers are the left and right atria and the two bottom chambers are the left and right ventricles. Blood vessels lead in and out of these chambers.
Oxygen-rich blood from the lungs flows into your heart and is pumped out to the rest of your body. Once the blood has delivered the oxygen to the tissues of the body, it returns to your heart and gets pumped back to the lungs for more oxygen.
What is coronary heart disease?
Coronary artery disease happens when coronary arteries, the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart, are narrowed or blocked. That occurs when fat (cholesterol), calcium and other products in the blood build up inside the lining of the arteries, forming a plaque. This process is called atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.
Atherosclerosis can affect arteries throughout the body, including the ones supplying blood to the heart, the brain, and your arms and legs. When plaque builds up inside coronary arteries, blood flow to the heart is reduced. Ischemia is the term doctors use to describe this condition. When part of the heart doesn't receive enough blood, chest pain or discomfort (angina) may occur. Over time, reduced blood flow may weaken the heart muscle so that it cannot pump effectively. This may result in other serious conditions, such as cardiomyopathy or heart failure.
If a plaque should break or rupture, a blood clot could form, blocking blood flow to the heart muscle. This is when a heart attack occurs. During a heart attack, heart muscle cells die because they are deprived of nutrients.
What is a heart attack?
When one or more of the coronary arteries are obstructed or blocked, usually due to a blood clot formation in the blood vessel, blood cannot reach the heart muscle on the other side of the obstruction. Usually within 20 minutes of not receiving oxygen-rich blood, parts of the heart muscle stop functioning, thus leading to a heart attack. A heart attack, or myocardial infarction, is the result of loss of function of the damaged part of the heart.
What can cause coronary heart disease?
The following conditions are strong risk factors for coronary artery disease:
- A family history of heart disease
- Untreated high blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Sedentary lifestyle
If risk factors are detected and treated at an early stage, it may be possible to prevent or, in cases, even reverse the effects of coronary artery disease. To learn your risk for heart disease take our free Heart Risk Assessment: Trinity HeartAware.
What is cardiac catheterization?
Cardiac catheterization is a diagnostic test to give your doctor information about your heart and coronary arteries. Your doctor will evaluate any blockages in your coronary arteries, the health of your heart and valves, the presence of aneurysms, and abnormal blood flow in the heart.
The procedure is performed by a specially-trained physician. The patient is awake during the entire procedure but is given a relaxing sedative. The procedure begins by administration of an anesthetic to the site where the catheter will be inserted - usually the groin or arm. A small incision is made in the skin and a catheter is then inserted. The catheter will be advanced through a blood vessel into the heart. Once the catheter is in place, injections of dye will be made into the arteries and chambers of the heart. An x-ray camera will be moved around the table to take pictures of the heart from a number of different angles. The procedure usually takes 30 to 60 minutes.
What is an angioplasty?
With this procedure, a catheter is used to create a bigger opening in the vessel to increase blood flow. Although angioplasty is performed in other blood vessels, Percutaneous Transluminal Coronary Angioplasty (PTCA) refers to angioplasty in the coronary arteries to permit more blood flow into the heart. There are several types of PTCA procedures, including:
- Balloon Angioplasty: A small balloon is inflated inside the blocked artery to open the blocked area. The blocked area inside the artery is "shaved" away by a tiny device on the end of a catheter.
- Laser Angioplasty: A laser used to "vaporize" the blockage in the artery.
- Coronary Artery Stent: A tiny coil is expanded inside the blocked artery to open the blocked area and is left in place to keep the artery open. The drug-coated stents release medicine that prevents scarring, which might lead to future blockage.
What is a coronary artery bypass?
In this surgical procedure, small portions of veins or arteries are taken from one part of the body and transplanted into the heart to bypass clogged coronary arteries of the heart.
What is transmyocardial laser revascularization?
This laser procedure treats angina, which is heart pain caused by coronary disease or blockages of the coronary arteries. Lasers create tiny holes in the heart. The holes close up and the procedure promotes the growth of new blood vessels in the heart.
How does Trinity's heart program compare to other programs?
The latest proven advances in surgical techniques from across the country have been incorporated into the operation of Trinity's heart program. This combination of personnel expertise and program design assures the highest possible quality for patients receiving heart care at Trinity.
Where are the open-heart surgeries performed?
Open-heart surgeries are performed at Trinity Rock Island.
How long does a patient stay in the hospital following open-heart surgery?
Most patients are discharged within four or five days after a routine by-pass procedure. Some patients with more complex conditions require longer hospital stays.
What happens after open-heart surgery?
Typically a patient will undergo a regimen of cardiac rehabilitation. Both the patient's cardiac surgeon and cardiologist will assess the patient for recovery progress and modify the care plan as necessary.
What is a pacemaker?
A pacemaker is a small, battery-powered device, implanted inside the chest to help regulate the heart rhythm by producing electrical signals to start the heartbeat. The pacemaker is usually about two inches in diameter and weighs about one ounce.
Pacemakers are designed to sense whether or not the heart is producing electrical signals regularly. If natural beating activity does not occur within a specified time, it will send an electrical signal to the heart, causing it to beat. The pacemaker then adjusts itself to a new timing cycle and continues monitoring for natural heart activity.