How Heart Problems Can Affect Your Breathing

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Heart ailments are the leading cause of hospitalizations and mortality for people of all ages. They’re developed congenitally, and they can also be acquired, sudden attacks. Early diagnosis and prompt intervention are vital to prevent worsening conditions.

Studies show that cardiac problems aren’t limited to chest pain. When a person is struggling to breathe, you must know other symptoms to distinguish between a heart attack or a seizure. Proper first-aid application is crucial in keeping them alive before responders arrive.

The heart and lungs work in pairs to deliver oxygen-rich blood to all body tissues. Defects and malfunction disrupt the systemic blood circulation, decreasing the body’s oxygen (O2) level, which results in breathing problems.

This article would discuss how heart problems can affect your breathing.

Anatomy And Physiology Background Of The Heart

The heart is mainly responsible for collecting deoxygenated blood and transporting oxygenated blood from the lungs to the body’s periphery. It’s a hollow muscular organ that lies in the mediastinum, and its size is about a human’s fist.

The heart function is composed of the pulmonary and systemic circuit:

  • Pulmonary Circuit

The role of the lungs is to filter deoxygenated or venous blood that comes from tissues throughout the body.

Deoxygenated blood returns to the heart via veins to the vena cavae and onto the heart’s right atrium. Following is its entrance down to the right ventricle via the tricuspid valve. It leaves the right ventricle via the pulmonary artery; deoxygenated blood will travel to the lungs for filtering and return as oxygenated blood to the heart’s left atrium via the pulmonary vein.

  • Systemic Circuit

This loop delivers oxygenated blood to the body’s tissues and cells. Lack of oxygenated blood will lead to inefficiency and malfunction of the body’s organs and systems. Oxygen-rich blood leaves the heart via the left ventricle to the aorta and from there enters the arteries and capillaries, where it supplies the body’s tissues and cells with oxygen.

The two physiologic functions of the heart are essential for the body’s balanced and sufficient O2 level saturation, and this element can be monitored through an oximeter. It determines the amount of oxygen that the organs and extremities are receiving.

Hypoxemia, or the decrease in O2 level of the body, is harmful to the organs such as the brain, heart, lungs, and kidney. When these structures are compromised, the body won’t function efficiently, resulting in life-threatening conditions.

These are the anatomic structures that connect the heart to the lungs:

  • Pulmonary Vein

This carries deoxygenated blood from the right ventricle to the lungs.

  • Pulmonary Valve

This prevents the backflow of deoxygenated blood from the lungs to the right ventricle.

  • Pulmonary Artery

This carries oxygenated blood from the lungs to the left atrium.

Breathing

The purpose of breathing is to deliver O2 and eliminate carbon dioxide (CO2) from cells throughout the body. Breathing is an act of ventilation and respiration in which an exchange of O2 and CO2 occurs. It’s an automatic regulatory process where the levels of CO2 are detected and constantly sent to the brain’s medulla.

The medulla is the body’s main respiratory center, and it signals the respiratory muscles to regulate ventilation, leading to healthy and efficient breathing.

Central chemoreceptors monitor CO2 levels; they’re located near the medulla while peripheral sensors are located in the carotid body and aortic arch. They respond to the increase and decrease of CO2.  As CO2 increases, the medulla signals for an increase in respiration.

Heart Problems That Affect Breathing

The following are the most common heart problems that can affect your breathing:

  1. Pulmonary Atresia

Pulmonary atresia is a congenital disability of the heart. There’s an absence of the pulmonary valve that controls blood flow from the heart to the lungs. There’s difficulty in blood to travel to the lungs and pick up oxygen for the body.

Babies have rapid or slow breathing, leading to cyanosis or the bluish-purple color of the skin due to lack of oxygen. 

  1. Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary artery disease (CAD) happens when the blood vessels supplying your heart with oxygen, blood, and nutrients are damaged. It’s an umbrella term for the following:

  • Myocardial Infarction

This is also called a heart attack. When a blood clot or plaques block the heart’s blood flow, an area of the heart dies due to disrupted blood flow and decreased oxygen.

  • Acute Coronary Syndrome

This refers to the conditions where the heart muscle’s blood supply is suddenly blocked. This will lead to an insufficient supply of oxygenated blood to the body parts.

  • Atheroma

This occurs when fat, cholesterol, calcium, connective tissues, and inflammatory cells adhere to the arteries. It’ll compromise blood flow in the heart and body even if it’s only a partial blockage.

Patients experience shortness of breath (SOB), palpitations, and chest pain.

  1. Pulmonary Stenosis

Pulmonary stenosis occurs when the valve between the right ventricle and pulmonary artery is damaged. Pulmonary valve will become stiffened, narrowed valve opening, and reduced blood flow. There’s SOB, chest pain, tightness, and palpitation.

  1. Left Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)

Left CHF occurs when there’s an impaired gas exchange or pulmonary edema. This condition leads to decreased cardiac output or pulmonary congestion.

Here are the significant manifestations of left CHF that affects breathing:

  • Dyspnea

This is also known as an SOB due to vascular congestion, which reduces lung oxygenation.

  • Orthopnea

This is dyspnea in a lying position and is usually alleviated by head elevation. There’s pooling in the heart’s major blood vessel network, resulting in higher cardiac volume, increased left ventricular filling pressure, and pulmonary congestion.

  • Paroxysmal Nocturnal Dyspnea

This is the sudden waking up at night with severe SOB or cough. It’s due to lying flat at night, the medulla becoming less responsive at sleep, and decreasing adrenalin.

  • Pulmonary Edema

This is the fluid accumulation in the lungs, which leads to inefficient breathing.

  • Hacking Cough

This is a common symptom of left CHF. It produces frothy white, pink, or blood-tinge sputum.

  1. Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD)

RHD is when one or more heart valves are damaged after healing from acute rheumatic fever (ARF). The heart becomes inflamed and remains stretched or scarred even when ARF resolves. There’s a blood backflow in the mitral, tricuspid, and pulmonary valves.

RHD results in inefficient blood flow in the heart and the body, thus compromising the blood O2 level. The symptoms are SOB, chest pain, and discomfort.

Risk Factors For Having Heart Problems

Here are some factors that could affect your heart’s condition:

  • Family history
  • Age
  • Sex
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Smoking
  • Imbalanced diet
  • Diabetes
  • Stress
  • Hypertension
  • Liver and kidney diseases
  • Maternal alcohol and nicotine abuse

Final Word

Heart problems have a domino effect: insufficient blood flow, a decrease in oxygen level saturation, receptors signal and alarm the medulla, and when the heart fails to respond, it leads to unproductive breathing.

Cardiac ailments are inevitable yet may be preventable. It can lead to life-threatening diseases when undiagnosed and undetected. It’s essential to distinguish heart problems and know basic life support to help save lives.