How the heart works

Your heart, which is about the size of your fist, is a strong muscle that pumps blood throughout your body. Your blood is pumped from your heart through blood vessels (arteries) before going through smaller blood vessels called capillaries. These small blood vessels in your lungs allow your blood to receive oxygen. After getting oxygen, your blood travels throughout your body to deliver it, and at the same time picks up carbon dioxide. Once the oxygen has been used, the blood returns to the heart through blood vessels called veins. Then, it is ready to be pumped back to the lungs where it will get rid of the carbon dioxide and receive more oxygen.

Signs of heart failure

People who need a heart transplant may have a bluish discoloration in their skin because the heart is unable to pump enough oxygen throughout the body. They may also get tired easily, and often they cannot take part in activities and sports. Children are usually small for their age because their heart does not work well.

Who needs a heart transplant?

The two most common heart diseases leading to transplantation are "coronary artery disease" (narrowing or hardening of the coronary arteries) and "cardiomyopathy" (weakening of the heart muscle). Other health problems, such as heart valve disease, a congenital defect, or a viral infection, can also weaken the heart. For example, children may be born with a congenital defect or malformation of their heart, or they may develop cardiomyopathy. When their heart disease worsens and becomes life threatening, their name is added to the transplant waiting list. Children may wait several months before a heart, which is the right size for them, becomes available.

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Last Updated July 22, 2008 | © 2007, LHSC, London Ontario Canada