Avoid heart pump failure

by Karen Bowen

As a trucker, you know it’s vital to keep all your rig’s pumps functioning well. February, Valentine’s Day month, is a great time to consider the maintenance of your body’s major pump – your heart.

Your heart, about the size of your fist, sits slightly left of center in your chest. The dividing wall between its left and right sides separates oxygen-rich blood from oxygen-poor blood.

After blood circulates through your body, the right side (right atrium and ventricle) collects this oxygen-poor blood and then pumps it through the pulmonary arteries to your lungs for an oxygen top-up. This newly-oxygenated blood then enters the left side of your heart (left atrium and ventricle) to be pumped through the aorta to your body.

Like most pumps, your heart has valves to keep blood flowing in the proper direction. For optimum function, these valves must be properly formed to open and close tightly without leakage. When your heart beats, it contracts and relaxes in a continuous cycle. When contracting (systole), ventricles squeeze and force blood through blood vessels to your lungs and body. When relaxing (diastole), ventricles fill with blood from the upper chambers (left and right atria).

Your heart pump receives impulses from your body’s electrical system, which trigger contractions and maintain a regular beat. These electrical impulses begin high in the right atrium and travel through specialized pathways to the ventricles, causing the heart to pump. By maintaining a coordinated rhythm, this conduction system keeps your blood circulating well. However, heart or cardiovascular disease reduces your heart’s efficiency.

A broad range of conditions fall under the umbrella of cardiovascular disease, including heart defects that are present at birth (congenital); blood vessel diseases (coronary artery disease); heart rhythm diseases (arrhythmias); conditions creating narrowed or blocked blood vessels; and/or conditions impacting the heart muscle, valves or rhythm.

What are typical signs and symptoms of heart disease? They differ, depending on the root cause and whether you are a man or woman.

For coronary artery disease, men are more likely to feel chest pain, while women typically have chest discomfort and also shortness of breath, extreme fatigue and nausea. General symptoms include chest discomfort, pain, tightness, and/or pressure; shortness of breath; ongoing pain, numbness, weakness and/or coldness in extremities; and pain in the jaw, neck, throat, back or upper abdomen.

Heart arrhythmias can cause shortness of breath; lightheadedness; dizziness; fainting; fluttering in your chest; racing heartbeat (tachycardia) and/or slow heart beat (bradycardia). A weakened heart muscle (cardiomyopathy) may cause fatigue; swollen feet, ankles and legs; irregular heartbeat (fluttering, pounding or rapid); breathlessness, whether active or resting; and/or lightheadedness, dizziness and fainting.

Infection that settles in the inner membrane separating the chambers and valves of your heart (endocarditis) can cause fever; shortness of breath; weakness/fatigue; swollen legs/abdomen; irregular heartbeat; dry, persistent cough; skin rashes or unusual spots.

Valvular heart disease, damaged valves impacting the blood flow through your heart, may result from conditions leading to leaking; a narrowing; or improper closing. These can cause swollen ankles or feet; fainting; fatigue; shortness of breath; irregular heartbeat; and/or chest pain.

If you have any cardiovascular disease symptoms, get checked out by your doctor. Fortunately, early-identified, non-congenital conditions can usually be avoided or treated by adopting a healthier lifestyle. You can reduce your risk factors. Quit smoking – nicotine constricts blood vessels and carbon monoxide damages their inner lining. Improve your diet – lower your intake of fat, salt, sugar and cholesterol. Control your blood pressure. Lower your cholesterol – avoid the formation of plaque leading to atherosclerosis. Preserve appropriate blood sugar levels – avoid diabetes. Maintain a healthy weight. Be active. Avoid and manage stress. Wash your hands and brush your teeth regularly – avoid bacterial/viral infections.

Don’t wait for an emergency situation to take care of your heart. Conscientious maintenance will help avoid failures, breakdowns, and repairs.

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