Heart Disease 101: The Basics

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and will continue to be well into the future. Awareness is vital to combat this disease and an understanding of heart disease, including types, diagnosis, risk factors, treatment and prevention, begins with gaining a clear understanding of the anatomy of the heart.

Related program: B.S. in Health Education & Behavior

UF Online Infographic: Heart Disease 101: The Basics

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The heart is a muscular organ located in the chest cavity, just to the left of the sternum or breastbone. Surrounded by a protective sac called the pericardium, the heart has 4 chambers, separated by a wall or septum. The chambers upper 2 chambers are called the left and right atria, and the 2 lower chambers are called the right and left ventricles. The chambers beat in a specifically timed rhythm or pace which is controlled by the heart’s electrical system or pacemaker called the Purkinje Fibers.

As the heart beats, it sends approximately 2,000 gallons of oxygenated blood to the body’s organs via the cardiovascular system. This network of blood vessels is a gigantic web of veins and arteries. Amazingly, the fist-shaped heart beats 100,000 times or more daily even though it is small, weighing only 7 to 15 ounces.

This hard-working organ is prone to serious health conditions including coronary artery disease (CAD), heart attack, cardiac arrhythmias, and heart failure. It is estimated that coronary artery disease costs the United States $108.9 billion each year.

Heart attacks or myocardial infarctions (MI) happen when blood clots stop the flow of blood to an area of the heart. This causes damage to and even death of portions of the myocardium or heart muscle. In the United States, more than 1.5 heart attacks happen annually.

Heart failure can happen when the heart muscle becomes weak and cannot pump efficiently. This condition often results from defects present at birth or damage from a heart attack, high blood pressure or coronary artery disease. The heart has been overworked due to these conditions. Usually, people over the age of 65 have experience heart failure. The newly diagnosed number more than half a million annually.