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February is American Heart Association's Heart Month

Years ago, people who survived heart attacks were advised to get as much rest as possible and avoid activities involving exertion. Today, people recover from heart attacks to lead vigorous lives.

Your heart is a hollow muscle made up of four areas called chambers. The two top chambers are called atria. The two bottom chambers are called ventricles. The left atrium pumps blood to the ventricles, which sends blood to the body. The blood has nutrients and oxygen that the body needs.

Blood passes from the atria to the ventricles through one-way doors called valves. These control the amount of blood going into the ventricles and the body. There are valves between the atria and the ventricles. The blood is passed by a pumping or squeezing motion.

After the body has received its supply of nutrients and oxygen through the blood, it returns the blood to the right side of the heart. The right side of the heart pumps the blood, which is now low in oxygen, to the lungs where oxygen is picked up. The oxygen-rich blood will now be pumped to the body by the left side of the heart.

Blood is carried to the body by blood vessels called arteries. These arteries are normally flexible, but as we grow older these arteries may lose their flexibility. This is called "hardening" of the arteries or atherosclerosis. This hardening can cause the artery to become smaller and may occur anywhere in the body.

If one of these arteries is made smaller, then the supply of blood and nutrients to the heart and body decreases. If there is little or no blood to an area, such as the heart, then that area could starve and become damaged. This is called coronary artery disease. This does not always mean you will have a heart attack, but you are at risk.

To cut your risk, the American Heart Association suggests: don't smoke cigarettes or use other tobacco products; have your blood pressure checked regularly; eat food low in saturated fats and cholesterol; stay physically active; maintain proper body weight; and have regular medical checkups.

Risk factors are characteristics or habits that make a person more likely to have coronary heart disease. Some risk factors cannot be controlled; some of them can be controlled or modified. The more risk factors a person has, the greater his chances of developing heart disease.

Risk factors that you cannot control or change are age, gender and family history or heredity. Risk factors that you can control or change are tobacco use, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity or being overweight, lack of regular exercise, diabetes and stress.

February is American Heart Month. Make it a time to get a medical check-up and to give attention to keeping your heart healthy.

Web posted on Thursday, February 08, 2007

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