10 Things You May Not Know About Your Heart


1.  Your Heart is a Pump.

Your heart really isn't just a pump, it's a SUPER pump.  Every part of your body needs oxygen to survive, and your heart pumps oxygen-rich blood to every organ in your body, every minute, of every day.  For its size, your heart is a remarkably strong pump … the pressure it generates is strong enough to squirt blood thirty feet across a room.  Depending on what you're doing, your heart will pump one to seven gallons of blood a minute, and as much as 2000 gallons a day.  Over the course of your lifetime, your heart will pump one million barrels of blood … that's enough blood to fill two oil super tankers!

2.  Men and Women's Hearts are Different

As a heart surgeon, I can tell you that the outward appearance of a man's heart is identical to that of a woman's heart, but there are some very subtle differences.  An average man's heart weighs 10 ounces, and a woman's heart weighs only 8 ounces.  Women's hearts make up for their smaller size by beating a little faster.  The average heart rate of a man is 70 beats/minute, and that of a woman is 78 beats/minute.

3.  Your Heart is Not Red.

Despite the fact that any Valentine's Day card ever made depicts a bright red heart, your heart really isn't red at all.  The blood that it pumps is red, but your heart itself is darker and browner than the blood it pumps … it is more the color of a colonial brick house.  Furthermore, the surface of your heart has abundant deposits of fat (independent of your weight), which make the surface of your heart look very yellow. 4.  Your Heart is Not on the Left Side of Your Chest

Although most of us place our right hand on our left chest when we pledge allegiance to the flag, we really should be placing it over the center of our chest, because that's where our hearts sit.  Your heart is in middle of your chest, in between your right and left lung.  It is, however, tilted slightly to the left.

5.  A Bigger Heart is Not a Better Heart

Although having a "big heart" is considered an admirable quality, it isn't healthy.  Having an enlarged heart or overly muscular heart can be dangerous.  An average healthy heart weighs less than one pound, and is roughly the size and shape of your clenched fist.  Because hearts beat every second of every day of your life, they are designed for a long-distance race, not a sprint … so healthy hearts look more like a marathon runner … lean and efficient.

6.  A Common Cold Can Damage Your Heart

We all know that blocked arteries and leaky heart valves can damage your heart, but most people don't know that the viruses that cause a common cold can weaken your heart … this condition is called a viral cardiomyopathy.  Just like with cold and flu symptoms, your heart will usually recover its function once the virus runs its course.  It may be a surprise to you that excessive alcohol intake and certain cancer-fighting chemotherapy drugs can also weaken your heart.

7.  Your Heart Will Continue to Beat Even if it's Removed From Your Body

A scene in Indiana Jones's Temple of Doom shows a heart continuing to beat after it has been ripped out of man's chest.  As remarkable as this seems, it can happen.  Your heart has its own electrical system that causes your heart to beat, and as long as your heart continues to receive oxygen, it will continue to beat … even if it's separated from the rest of your body.

8.  Your Heart Cannot Fatigue

Your heart begins beating four weeks after conception and doesn't stop beating until you die.  It beats 100,000 times a day, and almost one million times a week.  What's remarkable is that although your heart can weaken for other reasons, it won't fatigue, it never tires out … it has tremendous endurance.  Think about trying to squeeze a tennis ball in your hand (which is similar to the force of a beating heart) 1000,000 times a day … you couldn't do it.

9.  You Can Have a Heart Attack Without Having "Chest Pain"

Although the classic symptoms of coronary artery disease or an impending heart attack include heaviness or tightness in the your chest, and shortness of breath, there are many other possible presentations including fatigue, sweating, nausea, palpitations, and neck or arm pain.  Some people, particularly diabetics, may have no symptoms at all … and when a heart attack occurs in this setting it's called a "silent" heart attack.

10.  Emotions or Stress Can "Break Your Heart"

Emotions and stress can cause your body to release certain hormones that, under certain circumstances, can paralyze large portions of your heart.  This is called "takotsubo's cardiomyopathy" or "broken heart syndrome," and primarily affects post-menopausal women.  The stress that triggers this phenomenon can be the death of a loved one, the loss of money, a surprise party or even the fear of performing in public. Fortunately this syndrome is only temporary, and after supportive measures, heart function usually returns to normal.