The heart resides within the pericardial sac and is located in the mediastinal space within the thoracic cavity. The pericardial sac consists of two fused layers: an outer fibrous capsule and an inner parietal pericardium lined with a serous membrane. Between the pericardial sac and the heart is the pericardial cavity, which is filled with lubricating serous fluid. The walls of the heart are composed of an outer epicardium, a thick myocardium, and an inner lining layer of endocardium. The human heart consists of a pair of atria, which receive blood and pump it into a pair of ventricles, which pump blood into the vessels. The right atrium receives systemic blood relatively low in oxygen and pumps it into the right ventricle, which pumps it into the pulmonary circuit. Exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide occurs in the lungs, and blood high in oxygen returns to the left atrium, which pumps blood into the left ventricle, which in turn pumps blood into the aorta and the remainder of the systemic circuit. The septa are the partitions that separate the chambers of the heart. They include the interatrial septum, the interventricular septum, and the atrioventricular septum. Two of these openings are guarded by the atrioventricular valves, the right tricuspid valve and the left mitral valve, which prevent the backflow of blood. Each is attached to chordae tendineae that extend to the papillary muscles, which are extensions of the myocardium, to prevent the valves from being blown back into the atria. The pulmonary valve is located at the base of the pulmonary trunk, and the left semilunar valve is located at the base of the aorta. The right and left coronary arteries are the first to branch off the aorta and arise from two of the three sinuses located near the base of the aorta and are generally located in the sulci. Cardiac veins parallel the small cardiac arteries and generally drain into the coronary sinus.
The heart is regulated by both neural and endocrine control, yet it is capable of initiating its own action potential followed by muscular contraction. The conductive cells within the heart establish the heart rate and transmit it through the myocardium. The contractile cells contract and propel the blood. The normal path of transmission for the conductive cells is the sinoatrial (SA) node, internodal pathways, atrioventricular (AV) node, atrioventricular (AV) bundle of His, bundle branches, and Purkinje fibers. The action potential for the conductive cells consists of a prepotential phase with a slow influx of Na+ followed by a rapid influx of Ca2+ and outflux of K+. Contractile cells have an action potential with an extended plateau phase that results in an extended refractory period to allow complete contraction for the heart to pump blood effectively. Recognizable points on the ECG include the P wave that corresponds to atrial depolarization, the QRS complex that corresponds to ventricular depolarization, and the T wave that corresponds to ventricular repolarization.
The cardiac cycle comprises a complete relaxation and contraction of both the atria and ventricles, and lasts approximately 0.8 seconds. Beginning with all chambers in diastole, blood flows passively from the veins into the atria and past the atrioventricular valves into the ventricles. The atria begin to contract (atrial systole), following depolarization of the atria, and pump blood into the ventricles. The ventricles begin to contract (ventricular systole), raising pressure within the ventricles. When ventricular pressure rises above the pressure in the atria, blood flows toward the atria, producing the first heart sound, S1 or lub. As pressure in the ventricles rises above two major arteries, blood pushes open the two semilunar valves and moves into the pulmonary trunk and aorta in the ventricular ejection phase. Following ventricular repolarization, the ventricles begin to relax (ventricular diastole), and pressure within the ventricles drops. As ventricular pressure drops, there is a tendency for blood to flow back into the atria from the major arteries, producing the dicrotic notch in the ECG and closing the two semilunar valves. The second heart sound, S2 or dub, occurs when the semilunar valves close. When the pressure falls below that of the atria, blood moves from the atria into the ventricles, opening the atrioventricular valves and marking one complete heart cycle. The valves prevent backflow of blood. Failure of the valves to operate properly produces turbulent blood flow within the heart; the resulting heart murmur can often be heard with a stethoscope.
Many factors affect HR and SV, and together, they contribute to cardiac function. HR is largely determined and regulated by autonomic stimulation and hormones. There are several feedback loops that contribute to maintaining homeostasis dependent upon activity levels, such as the atrial reflex, which is determined by venous return.
SV is regulated by autonomic innervation and hormones, but also by filling time and venous return. Venous return is determined by activity of the skeletal muscles, blood volume, and changes in peripheral circulation. Venous return determines preload and the atrial reflex. Filling time directly related to HR also determines preload. Preload then impacts both EDV and ESV. Autonomic innervation and hormones largely regulate contractility. Contractility impacts EDV as does afterload. CO is the product of HR multiplied by SV. SV is the difference between EDV and ESV.
The heart is the first organ to form and become functional, emphasizing the importance of transport of material to and from the developing infant. It originates about day 18 or 19 from the mesoderm and begins beating and pumping blood about day 21 or 22. It forms from the cardiogenic region near the head and is visible as a prominent heart bulge on the surface of the embryo. Originally, it consists of a pair of strands called cardiogenic cords that quickly form a hollow lumen and are referred to as endocardial tubes. These then fuse into a single heart tube and differentiate into the truncus arteriosus, bulbus cordis, primitive ventricle, primitive atrium, and sinus venosus, starting about day 22. The primitive heart begins to form an S shape within the pericardium between days 23 and 28. The internal septa begin to form about day 28, separating the heart into the atria and ventricles, although the foramen ovale persists until shortly after birth. Between weeks five and eight, the atrioventricular valves form. The semilunar valves form between weeks five and nine.