Understanding The Heart

In order to understand your cardiac condition and your procedure, you need to first learn the normal functioning of the heart. The heart is a muscle, located in the left central area of your chest behind the sternum (breastbone) and ribs. It’s about the size of an adult’s closed fist and weighs less than a pound. There are four chambers in the heart, two on the right and two on the left. The upper two chambers are called atria and the lower two chambers are called ventricles.

Heart Valves and Their Function

A heart valve is a ring-like structure with smooth leaflets (cusps). These cusps serve to control the flow and direction of blood as it passes through the heart chambers and out into the body. The heart has four main valves:

  • Tricuspid – between right atrium and right ventricle
  • Mitral – between left atrium and left ventricle
  • Pulmonic – between right ventricle and lungs
  • Aortic – between left ventricle and the body

Normal Condition of the Heart

Each heartbeat begins when a special group of cells in the right atrium of the heart (the Sinus Node) sends an electrical signal. This signal spreads throughout the atria to the Atrioventricular (AV) Node. The AV Node connects to a special group of conducting fibers in the ventricles. As the electrical impulse travels through the heart, the heart contracts. This normally occurs 60 -100 times each minute. Each contraction represents one heartbeat.

Coronary Arteries

The heart, along with the rest of the body, must have oxygen to do its job. The special blood vessels that supply the heart with oxygen-rich blood are called coronary arteries. They are located on the surface of the heart. There are two primary coronary arteries, the left and the right. Each of these arteries has smaller branches that help supply the heart as well.

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