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The Normal Healthy Heart

The heart is a unique and vital organ, with a simple purpose: to pump blood around the body. In order to achieve this, the heart muscle must beat continuously for our entire lifetimes, starting from just 6 weeks into development in the womb. 

All other muscles in our body can rest or be augmented by other muscle groups, but there is no substitute pump for the heart in nature. 

The heart is the centre point of the body’s circulation. It pumps blood in an infinite loop: picking up de-oxygenated blood from the body and sending it to the lungs to get oxygen and discard carbon-dioxide; and then sending the refreshed blood with oxygen in it to the body, brain and itself.

The heart is often thought of as a muscle-pump, but there are many component parts which work together. Some parts are referred to by their medical name (which is often Greek or Latin) or based on where in the heart they are. 

  • The heart muscle or myocardium does the pumping.
  • There are four chambers of the heart made of muscle: two on the “left” and two on the “right” (the terms left and right refer to the development of the heart in the womb - but the heart rotates during development, so these are not on the left or right sides of the body).
  • On each side, there is a priming chamber called an atrium, which is smaller than the main pumping chamber and is responsible for making sure that the heart is optimally filled ready for each beat.
  • Under each atrium is a ventricle, which pumps the blood out of the heart. The “right” side pumps to the lungs and the “left” side pumps to the body, including the heart itself. 
  • Valves within the heart help to ensure that the blood is flowing in the correct direction. They open to let the blood out in the correct direction and close to prevent it from going backwards when the chambers contract. There are four valves - two on each side.
  • Coronary arteries are the blood supply to the heart muscle. They come from the aorta, the main blood vessel that pumps blood from the heart to the rest of the body, and arise just after the blood leaves the left ventricle through the aortic valve.
  • Electrical conduction systems run through the heart to ensure that each beat is co-ordinated and as efficient as possible. 

Disease can occur in any one of these different components, and the treatment depends on what has been found.