Restoring Flow

CHAPTER 2

  

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Restoring Flow

Your heart is the workhorse of your body, both a miracle of biology and a marvel of endurance. It started beating about 6 weeks after you were conceived, and it will continue to beat about 100,000 times a day, 35 million times in a year. In an average lifetime, this fist-sized organ will beat more than 2.5 billion times and pump 1 million barrels of blood. That's enough to fill more than three supertankers.

The circulatory system is a marvel in itself. Your body contains 60,000 miles of arteries, veins, and capillaries that supply all the organs and tissues in your body with the nutrients and oxygen they require.

Like every other organ in your body, your heart must be supplied with oxygenated blood. But the blood constantly flowing through its chambers doesn't nourish the heart muscle itself or carry away its waste products. Your heart gets its own blood supply through the coronary arteries, which encircle your heart like a crown. (Hence the term "coronary," from the Latin word for crown.) There are two main coronary arteries, which branch out of the aorta, the left main coronary artery and the right coronary artery. These large coronary arteries are about the width of a drinking straw and gradually taper as they descend on the heart. The left main coronary artery divides into two branches called the left anterior descending artery and the circumflex artery. The right coronary artery branches into the posterior descending artery and the marginal artery. These arteries branch into smaller and smaller arteries, some of which penetrate inside the heart. They eventually branch into capillaries, some so fine that it would take ten of them lying side by side to form the thickness of a human hair. Your capillaries deliver oxygen and nutrients and remove waste from your heart's cells.

If one or more of the coronary arteries becomes narrowed or completely blocked, blood supply to the heart may be decreased or cut off altogether. The results can be painful and even deadly, including angina (chest pain), tissue death, and myocardial infarction, in other words, a heart attack.

Coronary bypass surgery is one technique used to restore blood flow to the heart when coronary arteries have become clogged.

More on this topic

What is Coronary Bypass Surgery? (VIDEO)
Restoring Flow
Stiff & Narrow
The Consequences of Clots
Testing & Diagnosis
Bypass Background
The Way to Your Heart
New Connections
Recovery from Bypass
Lifestyle for a Healthy Heart

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