Heart Anatomy
By the end of this section, you will be able to:

The vital importance of the heart is obvious. If one assumes an average rate of contraction of 75 contractions per minute, a human heart would contract approximately 108,000 times in one day, more than 39 million times in one year, and nearly 3 billion times during a 75-year lifespan. Each of the major pumping chambers of the heart ejects approximately 70 mL blood per contraction in a resting adult. This would be equal to 5.25 liters of fluid per minute and approximately 14,000 liters per day. Over one year, that would equal 10,000,000 liters or 2.6 million gallons of blood sent through roughly 60,000 miles of vessels. In order to understand how that happens, it is necessary to understand the anatomy and physiology of the heart.

Location of the Heart

The human heart is located within the thoracic cavity, medially between the lungs in the space known as the mediastinum. [link] shows the position of the heart within the thoracic cavity. Within the mediastinum, the heart is separated from the other mediastinal structures by a tough membrane known as the pericardium, or pericardial sac, and sits in its own space called the pericardial cavity. The dorsal surface of the heart lies near the bodies of the vertebrae, and its anterior surface sits deep to the sternum and costal cartilages. The great veins, the superior and inferior venae cavae, and the great arteries, the aorta and pulmonary trunk, are attached to the superior surface of the heart, called the base. The base of the heart is located at the level of the third costal cartilage, as seen in [link]. The inferior tip of the heart, the apex, lies just to the left of the sternum between the junction of the fourth and fifth ribs near their articulation with the costal cartilages. The right side of the heart is deflected anteriorly, and the left side is deflected posteriorly. It is important to remember the position and orientation of the heart when placing a stethoscope on the chest of a patient and listening for heart sounds, and also when looking at images taken from a midsagittal perspective. The slight deviation of the apex to the left is reflected in a depression in the medial surface of the inferior lobe of the left lung, called the cardiac notch.

Position of the Heart in the Thorax
The heart is located within the thoracic cavity, medially between the lungs in the mediastinum. It is about the size of a fist, is broad at the top, and tapers toward the base.
This diagram shows the location of the heart in the thorax.
Everyday Connection

CPR The position of the heart in the torso between the vertebrae and sternum (see [link] for the position of the heart within the thorax) allows for individuals to apply an emergency technique known as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if the heart of a patient should stop. By applying pressure with the flat portion of one hand on the sternum in the area between the line at T4 and T9 ([link]), it is possible to manually compress the blood within the heart enough to push some of the blood within it into the pulmonary and systemic circuits. This is particularly critical for the brain, as irreversible damage and death of neurons occur within minutes of loss of blood flow. Current standards call for compression of the chest at least 5 cm deep and at a rate of 100 compressions per minute, a rate equal to the beat in “Staying Alive,” recorded in 1977 by the Bee Gees. If you are unfamiliar with this song, a version is available on www.youtube.com. At this stage, the emphasis is on performing high-quality chest compressions, rather than providing artificial respiration. CPR is generally performed until the patient regains spontaneous contraction or is declared dead by an experienced healthcare professional.

When performed by untrained or overzealous individuals, CPR can result in broken ribs or a broken sternum, and can inflict additional severe damage on the patient. It is also possible, if the hands are placed too low on the sternum, to manually drive the xiphoid process into the liver, a consequence that may prove fatal for the patient. Proper training is essential. This proven life-sustaining technique is so valuable that virtually all medical personnel as well as concerned members of the public should be certified and routinely recertified in its application. CPR courses are offered at a variety of locations, including colleges, hospitals, the American Red Cross, and some commercial companies. They normally include practice of the compression technique on a mannequin.

CPR Technique
If the heart should stop, CPR can maintain the flow of blood until the heart resumes beating. By applying pressure to the sternum, the blood within the heart will be squeezed out of the heart and into the circulation. Proper positioning of the hands on the sternum to perform CPR would be between the lines at T4 and T9.
The top panel shows a schematic of a person performing CPR and demarcates the region in the chest where the compression must be performed. The bottom panel shows a photo of a person performing CPR on a dummy.
QR Code representing a URL

Visit the American Heart Association website to help locate a course near your home in the United States. There are also many other national and regional heart associations that offer the same service, depending upon the location.

Shape and Size of the Heart

The shape of the heart is similar to a pinecone, rather broad at the superior surface and tapering to the apex (see [link]). A typical heart is approximately the size of your fist: 12 cm (5 in) in length, 8 cm (3.5 in) wide, and 6 cm (2.5 in) in thickness. Given the size difference between most members of the sexes, the weight of a female heart is approximately 250–300 grams (9 to 11 ounces), and the weight of a male heart is approximately 300–350 grams (11 to 12 ounces). The heart of a well-trained athlete, especially one specializing in aerobic sports, can be considerably larger than this. Cardiac muscle responds to exercise in a manner similar to that of skeletal muscle. That is, exercise results in the addition of protein myofilaments that increase the size of the individual cells without increasing their numbers, a concept called hypertrophy. Hearts of athletes can pump blood more effectively at lower rates than those of nonathletes. Enlarged hearts are not always a result of exercise; they can result from pathologies, such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. The cause of an abnormally enlarged heart muscle is unknown, but the condition is often undiagnosed and can cause sudden death in apparently otherwise healthy young people.

Chambers and Circulation through the Heart

The human heart consists of four chambers: The left side and the right side each have one atrium and one ventricle. Each of the upper chambers, the right atrium (plural = atria) and the left atrium, acts as a receiving chamber and contracts to push blood into the lower chambers, the right ventricle and the left ventricle. The ventricles serve as the primary pumping chambers of the heart, propelling blood to the lungs or to the rest of the body.

There are two distinct but linked circuits in the human circulation called the pulmonary and systemic circuits. Although both circuits transport blood and everything it carries, we can initially view the circuits from the point of view of gases. The pulmonary circuit transports blood to and from the lungs, where it picks up oxygen and delivers carbon dioxide for exhalation. The systemic circuit transports oxygenated blood to virtually all of the tissues of the body and returns relatively deoxygenated blood and carbon dioxide to the heart to be sent back to the pulmonary circulation.

The right ventricle pumps deoxygenated blood into the pulmonary trunk, which leads toward the lungs and bifurcates into the left and right pulmonary arteries. These vessels in turn branch many times before reaching the pulmonary capillaries, where gas exchange occurs: Carbon dioxide exits the blood and oxygen enters. The pulmonary trunk arteries and their branches are the only arteries in the post-natal body that carry relatively deoxygenated blood. Highly oxygenated blood returning from the pulmonary capillaries in the lungs passes through a series of vessels that join together to form the pulmonary veins—the only post-natal veins in the body that carry highly oxygenated blood. The pulmonary veins conduct blood into the left atrium, which pumps the blood into the left ventricle, which in turn pumps oxygenated blood into the aorta and on to the many branches of the systemic circuit. Eventually, these vessels will lead to the systemic capillaries, where exchange with the tissue fluid and cells of the body occurs. In this case, oxygen and nutrients exit the systemic capillaries to be used by the cells in their metabolic processes, and carbon dioxide and waste products will enter the blood.

The blood exiting the systemic capillaries is lower in oxygen concentration than when it entered. The capillaries will ultimately unite to form venules, joining to form ever-larger veins, eventually flowing into the two major systemic veins, the superior vena cava and the inferior vena cava, which return blood to the right atrium. The blood in the superior and inferior venae cavae flows into the right atrium, which pumps blood into the right ventricle. This process of blood circulation continues as long as the individual remains alive. Understanding the flow of blood through the pulmonary and systemic circuits is critical to all health professions ([link]).

Dual System of the Human Blood Circulation
Blood flows from the right atrium to the right ventricle, where it is pumped into the pulmonary circuit. The blood in the pulmonary artery branches is low in oxygen but relatively high in carbon dioxide. Gas exchange occurs in the pulmonary capillaries (oxygen into the blood, carbon dioxide out), and blood high in oxygen and low in carbon dioxide is returned to the left atrium. From here, blood enters the left ventricle, which pumps it into the systemic circuit. Following exchange in the systemic capillaries (oxygen and nutrients out of the capillaries and carbon dioxide and wastes in), blood returns to the right atrium and the cycle is repeated.
The top panel shows the human heart with the arteries and veins labeled. The bottom panel shows the human circulatory system.

Internal Structure of the Heart

Recall that the heart’s contraction cycle follows a dual pattern of circulation—the pulmonary and systemic circuits—because of the pairs of chambers that pump blood into the circulation. In order to develop a more precise understanding of cardiac function, it is first necessary to explore the internal anatomical structures in more detail.

Septa of the Heart

The word septum is derived from the Latin for “something that encloses;” in this case, a septum (plural = septa) refers to a wall or partition that divides the heart into chambers. The septa are physical extensions of the myocardium lined with endocardium. Located between the two atria is the interatrial septum. Normally in an adult heart, the interatrial septum bears an oval-shaped depression known as the fossa ovalis, a remnant of an opening in the fetal heart known as the foramen ovale. The foramen ovale allowed blood in the fetal heart to pass directly from the right atrium to the left atrium, allowing some blood to bypass the pulmonary circuit. Within seconds after birth, a flap of tissue known as the septum primum that previously acted as a valve closes the foramen ovale and establishes the typical cardiac circulation pattern.

Between the two ventricles is a second septum known as the interventricular septum. Unlike the interatrial septum, the interventricular septum is normally intact after its formation during fetal development. It is substantially thicker than the interatrial septum, since the ventricles generate far greater pressure when they contract.

The septum between the atria and ventricles is known as the atrioventricular septum. It is marked by the presence of four openings that allow blood to move from the atria into the ventricles and from the ventricles into the pulmonary trunk and aorta. Located in each of these openings between the atria and ventricles is a valve, a specialized structure that ensures one-way flow of blood. The valves between the atria and ventricles are known generically as atrioventricular valves. The valves at the openings that lead to the pulmonary trunk and aorta are known generically as semilunar valves. The interventricular septum is visible in [link]. In this figure, the atrioventricular septum has been removed to better show the bicupid and tricuspid valves; the interatrial septum is not visible, since its location is covered by the aorta and pulmonary trunk. Since these openings and valves structurally weaken the atrioventricular septum, the remaining tissue is heavily reinforced with dense connective tissue called the cardiac skeleton, or skeleton of the heart. It includes four rings that surround the openings between the atria and ventricles, and the openings to the pulmonary trunk and aorta, and serve as the point of attachment for the heart valves. The cardiac skeleton also provides an important boundary in the heart electrical conduction system.

Internal Structures of the Heart
This anterior view of the heart shows the four chambers, the major vessels and their early branches, as well as the valves. The presence of the pulmonary trunk and aorta covers the interatrial septum, and the atrioventricular septum is cut away to show the atrioventricular valves.
In this figure the top panel shows the image of the heart with the major parts labeled. The bottom left panel shows a photo of the heart with the surface layer peeled off. The images on the bottom right show detailed musculature inside the heart.
Disorders of the…

Heart: Heart Defects One very common form of interatrial septum pathology is patent foramen ovale, which occurs when the septum primum does not close at birth, and the fossa ovalis is unable to fuse. The word patent is from the Latin root patens for “open.” It may be benign or asymptomatic, perhaps never being diagnosed, or in extreme cases, it may require surgical repair to close the opening permanently. As much as 20–25 percent of the general population may have a patent foramen ovale, but fortunately, most have the benign, asymptomatic version. Patent foramen ovale is normally detected by auscultation of a heart murmur (an abnormal heart sound) and confirmed by imaging with an echocardiogram. Despite its prevalence in the general population, the causes of patent ovale are unknown, and there are no known risk factors. In nonlife-threatening cases, it is better to monitor the condition than to risk heart surgery to repair and seal the opening.

Coarctation of the aorta is a congenital abnormal narrowing of the aorta that is normally located at the insertion of the ligamentum arteriosum, the remnant of the fetal shunt called the ductus arteriosus. If severe, this condition drastically restricts blood flow through the primary systemic artery, which is life threatening. In some individuals, the condition may be fairly benign and not detected until later in life. Detectable symptoms in an infant include difficulty breathing, poor appetite, trouble feeding, or failure to thrive. In older individuals, symptoms include dizziness, fainting, shortness of breath, chest pain, fatigue, headache, and nosebleeds. Treatment involves surgery to resect (remove) the affected region or angioplasty to open the abnormally narrow passageway. Studies have shown that the earlier the surgery is performed, the better the chance of survival.

A patent ductus arteriosus is a congenital condition in which the ductus arteriosus fails to close. The condition may range from severe to benign. Failure of the ductus arteriosus to close results in blood flowing from the higher pressure aorta into the lower pressure pulmonary trunk. This additional fluid moving toward the lungs increases pulmonary pressure and makes respiration difficult. Symptoms include shortness of breath (dyspnea), tachycardia, enlarged heart, a widened pulse pressure, and poor weight gain in infants. Treatments include surgical closure (ligation), manual closure using platinum coils or specialized mesh inserted via the femoral artery or vein, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to block the synthesis of prostaglandin E2, which maintains the vessel in an open position. If untreated, the condition can result in congestive heart failure.

Septal defects are not uncommon in individuals and may be congenital or caused by various disease processes. Tetralogy of Fallot is a congenital condition that may also occur from exposure to unknown environmental factors; it occurs when there is an opening in the interventricular septum caused by blockage of the pulmonary trunk, normally at the pulmonary semilunar valve. This allows blood that is relatively low in oxygen from the right ventricle to flow into the left ventricle and mix with the blood that is relatively high in oxygen. Symptoms include a distinct heart murmur, low blood oxygen percent saturation, dyspnea or difficulty in breathing, polycythemia, broadening (clubbing) of the fingers and toes, and in children, difficulty in feeding or failure to grow and develop. It is the most common cause of cyanosis following birth. The term “tetralogy” is derived from the four components of the condition, although only three may be present in an individual patient: pulmonary infundibular stenosis (rigidity of the pulmonary valve), overriding aorta (the aorta is shifted above both ventricles), ventricular septal defect (opening), and right ventricular hypertrophy (enlargement of the right ventricle). Other heart defects may also accompany this condition, which is typically confirmed by echocardiography imaging. Tetralogy of Fallot occurs in approximately 400 out of one million live births. Normal treatment involves extensive surgical repair, including the use of stents to redirect blood flow and replacement of valves and patches to repair the septal defect, but the condition has a relatively high mortality. Survival rates are currently 75 percent during the first year of life; 60 percent by 4 years of age; 30 percent by 10 years; and 5 percent by 40 years.

In the case of severe septal defects, including both tetralogy of Fallot and patent foramen ovale, failure of the heart to develop properly can lead to a condition commonly known as a “blue baby.” Regardless of normal skin pigmentation, individuals with this condition have an insufficient supply of oxygenated blood, which leads to cyanosis, a blue or purple coloration of the skin, especially when active.

Septal defects are commonly first detected through auscultation, listening to the chest using a stethoscope. In this case, instead of hearing normal heart sounds attributed to the flow of blood and closing of heart valves, unusual heart sounds may be detected. This is often followed by medical imaging to confirm or rule out a diagnosis. In many cases, treatment may not be needed. Some common congenital heart defects are illustrated in [link].

Congenital Heart Defects
(a) A patent foramen ovale defect is an abnormal opening in the interatrial septum, or more commonly, a failure of the foramen ovale to close. (b) Coarctation of the aorta is an abnormal narrowing of the aorta. (c) A patent ductus arteriosus is the failure of the ductus arteriosus to close. (d) Tetralogy of Fallot includes an abnormal opening in the interventricular septum.
This diagram shows the structure of the heart with different congenital defects. The top left panel shows patent foramen ovale, the top right panel shows coarctation of the aorta, the bottom left panel shows patent ductus ateriosus and the bottom right shows tetralogy of fallot.

Coronary Circulation

You will recall that the heart is a remarkable pump composed largely of cardiac muscle cells that are incredibly active throughout life. Like all other cells, a cardiomyocyte requires a reliable supply of oxygen and nutrients, and a way to remove wastes, so it needs a dedicated, complex, and extensive coronary circulation. And because of the critical and nearly ceaseless activity of the heart throughout life, this need for a blood supply is even greater than for a typical cell. However, coronary circulation is not continuous; rather, it cycles, reaching a peak when the heart muscle is relaxed and nearly ceasing while it is contracting.

Coronary Arteries

Coronary arteries supply blood to the myocardium and other components of the heart. The first portion of the aorta after it arises from the left ventricle gives rise to the coronary arteries. There are three dilations in the wall of the aorta just superior to the aortic semilunar valve. Two of these, the left posterior aortic sinus and anterior aortic sinus, give rise to the left and right coronary arteries, respectively. The third sinus, the right posterior aortic sinus, typically does not give rise to a vessel. Coronary vessel branches that remain on the surface of the artery and follow the sulci are called epicardial coronary arteries.

Coronary Circulation
The anterior view of the heart shows the prominent coronary surface vessels. The posterior view of the heart shows the prominent coronary surface vessels.
The top panel of this figure shows the anterior view of the heart while the bottom panel shows the posterior view of the heart. The different blood vessels are labeled.
Diseases of the…

Heart: Myocardial Infarction Myocardial infarction (MI) is the formal term for what is commonly referred to as a heart attack. It normally results from a lack of blood flow (ischemia) and oxygen (hypoxia) to a region of the heart, resulting in death of the cardiac muscle cells. An MI often occurs when a coronary artery is blocked by the buildup of atherosclerotic plaque consisting of lipids, cholesterol and fatty acids, and white blood cells, primarily macrophages. It can also occur when a portion of an unstable atherosclerotic plaque travels through the coronary arterial system and lodges in one of the smaller vessels. The resulting blockage restricts the flow of blood and oxygen to the myocardium and causes death of the tissue. MIs may be triggered by excessive exercise, in which the partially occluded artery is no longer able to pump sufficient quantities of blood, or severe stress, which may induce spasm of the smooth muscle in the walls of the vessel.

In the case of acute MI, there is often sudden pain beneath the sternum (retrosternal pain) called angina pectoris, often radiating down the left arm in males but not in female patients. Until this anomaly between the sexes was discovered, many female patients suffering MIs were misdiagnosed and sent home. In addition, patients typically present with difficulty breathing and shortness of breath (dyspnea), irregular heartbeat (palpations), nausea and vomiting, sweating (diaphoresis), anxiety, and fainting (syncope), although not all of these symptoms may be present. Many of the symptoms are shared with other medical conditions, including anxiety attacks and simple indigestion, so differential diagnosis is critical. It is estimated that between 22 and 64 percent of MIs present without any symptoms.

An MI can be confirmed by examining the patient’s ECG, which frequently reveals alterations in the ST and Q components. Some classification schemes of MI are referred to as ST-elevated MI (STEMI) and non-elevated MI (non-STEMI). In addition, echocardiography or cardiac magnetic resonance imaging may be employed. Common blood tests indicating an MI include elevated levels of creatine kinase MB (an enzyme that catalyzes the conversion of creatine to phosphocreatine, consuming ATP) and cardiac troponin (the regulatory protein for muscle contraction), both of which are released by damaged cardiac muscle cells.

Immediate treatments for MI are essential and include administering supplemental oxygen, aspirin that helps to break up clots, and nitroglycerine administered sublingually (under the tongue) to facilitate its absorption. Despite its unquestioned success in treatments and use since the 1880s, the mechanism of nitroglycerine is still incompletely understood but is believed to involve the release of nitric oxide, a known vasodilator, and endothelium-derived releasing factor, which also relaxes the smooth muscle in the tunica media of coronary vessels. Longer-term treatments include injections of thrombolytic agents such as streptokinase that dissolve the clot, the anticoagulant heparin, balloon angioplasty and stents to open blocked vessels, and bypass surgery to allow blood to pass around the site of blockage. If the damage is extensive, coronary replacement with a donor heart or coronary assist device, a sophisticated mechanical device that supplements the pumping activity of the heart, may be employed. Despite the attention, development of artificial hearts to augment the severely limited supply of heart donors has proven less than satisfactory but will likely improve in the future.

MIs may trigger cardiac arrest, but the two are not synonymous. Important risk factors for MI include cardiovascular disease, age, smoking, high blood levels of the low-density lipoprotein (LDL, often referred to as “bad” cholesterol), low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or “good” cholesterol), hypertension, diabetes mellitus, obesity, lack of physical exercise, chronic kidney disease, excessive alcohol consumption, and use of illegal drugs.

Coronary Veins

Coronary veins drain the heart and generally parallel the large surface arteries (see [link]). The great cardiac vein can be seen initially on the surface of the heart following the interventricular sulcus, but it eventually flows along the coronary sulcus into the coronary sinus on the posterior surface. The great cardiac vein initially parallels the anterior interventricular artery and drains the areas supplied by this vessel. It receives several major branches, including the posterior cardiac vein, the middle cardiac vein, and the small cardiac vein. The posterior cardiac vein parallels and drains the areas supplied by the marginal artery branch of the circumflex artery. The middle cardiac vein parallels and drains the areas supplied by the posterior interventricular artery. The small cardiac vein parallels the right coronary artery and drains the blood from the posterior surfaces of the right atrium and ventricle. The coronary sinus is a large, thin-walled vein on the posterior surface of the heart lying within the atrioventricular sulcus and emptying directly into the right atrium. The anterior cardiac veins parallel the small cardiac arteries and drain the anterior surface of the right ventricle. Unlike these other cardiac veins, it bypasses the coronary sinus and drains directly into the right atrium.

Diseases of the…

Heart: Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary artery disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. It occurs when the buildup of plaque—a fatty material including cholesterol, connective tissue, white blood cells, and some smooth muscle cells—within the walls of the arteries obstructs the flow of blood and decreases the flexibility or compliance of the vessels. This condition is called atherosclerosis, a hardening of the arteries that involves the accumulation of plaque. As the coronary blood vessels become occluded, the flow of blood to the tissues will be restricted, a condition called ischemia that causes the cells to receive insufficient amounts of oxygen, called hypoxia. [link] shows the blockage of coronary arteries highlighted by the injection of dye. Some individuals with coronary artery disease report pain radiating from the chest called angina pectoris, but others remain asymptomatic. If untreated, coronary artery disease can lead to MI or a heart attack.

Atherosclerotic Coronary Arteries
In this coronary angiogram (X-ray), the dye makes visible two occluded coronary arteries. Such blockages can lead to decreased blood flow (ischemia) and insufficient oxygen (hypoxia) delivered to the cardiac tissues. If uncorrected, this can lead to cardiac muscle death (myocardial infarction).
This photo shows a blockage in the coronary artery and in the circumflex artery.

The disease progresses slowly and often begins in children and can be seen as fatty “streaks” in the vessels. It then gradually progresses throughout life. Well-documented risk factors include smoking, family history, hypertension, obesity, diabetes, high alcohol consumption, lack of exercise, stress, and hyperlipidemia or high circulating levels of lipids in the blood. Treatments may include medication, changes to diet and exercise, angioplasty with a balloon catheter, insertion of a stent, or coronary bypass procedure.

Angioplasty is a procedure in which the occlusion is mechanically widened with a balloon. A specialized catheter with an expandable tip is inserted into a superficial vessel, normally in the leg, and then directed to the site of the occlusion. At this point, the balloon is inflated to compress the plaque material and to open the vessel to increase blood flow. Then, the balloon is deflated and retracted. A stent consisting of a specialized mesh is typically inserted at the site of occlusion to reinforce the weakened and damaged walls. Stent insertions have been routine in cardiology for more than 40 years.

Coronary bypass surgery may also be performed. This surgical procedure grafts a replacement vessel obtained from another, less vital portion of the body to bypass the occluded area. This procedure is clearly effective in treating patients experiencing a MI, but overall does not increase longevity. Nor does it seem advisable in patients with stable although diminished cardiac capacity since frequently loss of mental acuity occurs following the procedure. Long-term changes to behavior, emphasizing diet and exercise plus a medicine regime tailored to lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and lipids, and reduce clotting are equally as effective.

Chapter Review

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.

Interactive Link Questions

Visit this site to observe an echocardiogram of actual heart valves opening and closing. Although much of the heart has been “removed” from this gif loop so the chordae tendineae are not visible, why is their presence more critical for the atrioventricular valves (tricuspid and mitral) than the semilunar (aortic and pulmonary) valves?

The pressure gradient between the atria and the ventricles is much greater than that between the ventricles and the pulmonary trunk and aorta. Without the presence of the chordae tendineae and papillary muscles, the valves would be blown back (prolapsed) into the atria and blood would regurgitate.

Review Questions

Which of the following is not important in preventing backflow of blood?

  1. chordae tendineae
  2. papillary muscles
  3. AV valves
  4. endocardium

D

Which valve separates the left atrium from the left ventricle?

  1. mitral
  2. tricuspid
  3. pulmonary
  4. aortic

A

Which of the following lists the valves in the order through which the blood flows from the vena cava through the heart?

  1. tricuspid, pulmonary semilunar, bicuspid, aortic semilunar
  2. mitral, pulmonary semilunar, bicuspid, aortic semilunar
  3. aortic semilunar, pulmonary semilunar, tricuspid, bicuspid
  4. bicuspid, aortic semilunar, tricuspid, pulmonary semilunar

A

Which chamber initially receives blood from the systemic circuit?

  1. left atrium
  2. left ventricle
  3. right atrium
  4. right ventricle

C

The ________ layer secretes chemicals that help to regulate ionic environments and strength of contraction and serve as powerful vasoconstrictors.

  1. pericardial sac
  2. endocardium
  3. myocardium
  4. epicardium

B

The myocardium would be the thickest in the ________.

  1. left atrium
  2. left ventricle
  3. right atrium
  4. right ventricle

B

In which septum is it normal to find openings in the adult?

  1. interatrial septum
  2. interventricular septum
  3. atrioventricular septum
  4. all of the above

C

Critical Thinking Questions

Describe how the valves keep the blood moving in one direction.

When the ventricles contract and pressure begins to rise in the ventricles, there is an initial tendency for blood to flow back (regurgitate) to the atria. However, the papillary muscles also contract, placing tension on the chordae tendineae and holding the atrioventricular valves (tricuspid and mitral) in place to prevent the valves from prolapsing and being forced back into the atria. The semilunar valves (pulmonary and aortic) lack chordae tendineae and papillary muscles, but do not face the same pressure gradients as do the atrioventricular valves. As the ventricles relax and pressure drops within the ventricles, there is a tendency for the blood to flow backward. However, the valves, consisting of reinforced endothelium and connective tissue, fill with blood and seal off the opening preventing the return of blood.

Why is the pressure in the pulmonary circulation lower than in the systemic circulation?

The pulmonary circuit consists of blood flowing to and from the lungs, whereas the systemic circuit carries blood to and from the entire body. The systemic circuit is far more extensive, consisting of far more vessels and offers much greater resistance to the flow of blood, so the heart must generate a higher pressure to overcome this resistance. This can be seen in the thickness of the myocardium in the ventricles.

Glossary

anastomosis
(plural = anastomoses) area where vessels unite to allow blood to circulate even if there may be partial blockage in another branch
anterior cardiac veins
vessels that parallel the small cardiac arteries and drain the anterior surface of the right ventricle; bypass the coronary sinus and drain directly into the right atrium
anterior interventricular artery
(also, left anterior descending artery or LAD) major branch of the left coronary artery that follows the anterior interventricular sulcus
anterior interventricular sulcus
sulcus located between the left and right ventricles on the anterior surface of the heart
aortic valve
(also, aortic semilunar valve) valve located at the base of the aorta
atrioventricular septum
cardiac septum located between the atria and ventricles; atrioventricular valves are located here
atrioventricular valves
one-way valves located between the atria and ventricles; the valve on the right is called the tricuspid valve, and the one on the left is the mitral or bicuspid valve
atrium
(plural = atria) upper or receiving chamber of the heart that pumps blood into the lower chambers just prior to their contraction; the right atrium receives blood from the systemic circuit that flows into the right ventricle; the left atrium receives blood from the pulmonary circuit that flows into the left ventricle
auricle
extension of an atrium visible on the superior surface of the heart
bicuspid valve
(also, mitral valve or left atrioventricular valve) valve located between the left atrium and ventricle; consists of two flaps of tissue
cardiac notch
depression in the medial surface of the inferior lobe of the left lung where the apex of the heart is located
cardiac skeleton
(also, skeleton of the heart) reinforced connective tissue located within the atrioventricular septum; includes four rings that surround the openings between the atria and ventricles, and the openings to the pulmonary trunk and aorta; the point of attachment for the heart valves
cardiomyocyte
muscle cell of the heart
chordae tendineae
string-like extensions of tough connective tissue that extend from the flaps of the atrioventricular valves to the papillary muscles
circumflex artery
branch of the left coronary artery that follows coronary sulcus
coronary arteries
branches of the ascending aorta that supply blood to the heart; the left coronary artery feeds the left side of the heart, the left atrium and ventricle, and the interventricular septum; the right coronary artery feeds the right atrium, portions of both ventricles, and the heart conduction system
coronary sinus
large, thin-walled vein on the posterior surface of the heart that lies within the atrioventricular sulcus and drains the heart myocardium directly into the right atrium
coronary sulcus
sulcus that marks the boundary between the atria and ventricles
coronary veins
vessels that drain the heart and generally parallel the large surface arteries
endocardium
innermost layer of the heart lining the heart chambers and heart valves; composed of endothelium reinforced with a thin layer of connective tissue that binds to the myocardium
endothelium
layer of smooth, simple squamous epithelium that lines the endocardium and blood vessels
epicardial coronary arteries
surface arteries of the heart that generally follow the sulci
epicardium
innermost layer of the serous pericardium and the outermost layer of the heart wall
foramen ovale
opening in the fetal heart that allows blood to flow directly from the right atrium to the left atrium, bypassing the fetal pulmonary circuit
fossa ovalis
oval-shaped depression in the interatrial septum that marks the former location of the foramen ovale
great cardiac vein
vessel that follows the interventricular sulcus on the anterior surface of the heart and flows along the coronary sulcus into the coronary sinus on the posterior surface; parallels the anterior interventricular artery and drains the areas supplied by this vessel
hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
pathological enlargement of the heart, generally for no known reason
inferior vena cava
large systemic vein that returns blood to the heart from the inferior portion of the body
interatrial septum
cardiac septum located between the two atria; contains the fossa ovalis after birth
interventricular septum
cardiac septum located between the two ventricles
left atrioventricular valve
(also, mitral valve or bicuspid valve) valve located between the left atrium and ventricle; consists of two flaps of tissue
marginal arteries
branches of the right coronary artery that supply blood to the superficial portions of the right ventricle
mesothelium
simple squamous epithelial portion of serous membranes, such as the superficial portion of the epicardium (the visceral pericardium) and the deepest portion of the pericardium (the parietal pericardium)
middle cardiac vein
vessel that parallels and drains the areas supplied by the posterior interventricular artery; drains into the great cardiac vein
mitral valve
(also, left atrioventricular valve or bicuspid valve) valve located between the left atrium and ventricle; consists of two flaps of tissue
moderator band
band of myocardium covered by endocardium that arises from the inferior portion of the interventricular septum in the right ventricle and crosses to the anterior papillary muscle; contains conductile fibers that carry electrical signals followed by contraction of the heart
myocardium
thickest layer of the heart composed of cardiac muscle cells built upon a framework of primarily collagenous fibers and blood vessels that supply it and the nervous fibers that help to regulate it
papillary muscle
extension of the myocardium in the ventricles to which the chordae tendineae attach
pectinate muscles
muscular ridges seen on the anterior surface of the right atrium
pericardial cavity
cavity surrounding the heart filled with a lubricating serous fluid that reduces friction as the heart contracts
pericardial sac
(also, pericardium) membrane that separates the heart from other mediastinal structures; consists of two distinct, fused sublayers: the fibrous pericardium and the parietal pericardium
pericardium
(also, pericardial sac) membrane that separates the heart from other mediastinal structures; consists of two distinct, fused sublayers: the fibrous pericardium and the parietal pericardium
posterior cardiac vein
vessel that parallels and drains the areas supplied by the marginal artery branch of the circumflex artery; drains into the great cardiac vein
posterior interventricular artery
(also, posterior descending artery) branch of the right coronary artery that runs along the posterior portion of the interventricular sulcus toward the apex of the heart and gives rise to branches that supply the interventricular septum and portions of both ventricles
posterior interventricular sulcus
sulcus located between the left and right ventricles on the anterior surface of the heart
pulmonary arteries
left and right branches of the pulmonary trunk that carry deoxygenated blood from the heart to each of the lungs
pulmonary capillaries
capillaries surrounding the alveoli of the lungs where gas exchange occurs: carbon dioxide exits the blood and oxygen enters
pulmonary circuit
blood flow to and from the lungs
pulmonary trunk
large arterial vessel that carries blood ejected from the right ventricle; divides into the left and right pulmonary arteries
pulmonary valve
(also, pulmonary semilunar valve, the pulmonic valve, or the right semilunar valve) valve at the base of the pulmonary trunk that prevents backflow of blood into the right ventricle; consists of three flaps
pulmonary veins
veins that carry highly oxygenated blood into the left atrium, which pumps the blood into the left ventricle, which in turn pumps oxygenated blood into the aorta and to the many branches of the systemic circuit
right atrioventricular valve
(also, tricuspid valve) valve located between the right atrium and ventricle; consists of three flaps of tissue
semilunar valves
valves located at the base of the pulmonary trunk and at the base of the aorta
septum
(plural = septa) walls or partitions that divide the heart into chambers
septum primum
flap of tissue in the fetus that covers the foramen ovale within a few seconds after birth
small cardiac vein
parallels the right coronary artery and drains blood from the posterior surfaces of the right atrium and ventricle; drains into the great cardiac vein
sulcus
(plural = sulci) fat-filled groove visible on the surface of the heart; coronary vessels are also located in these areas
superior vena cava
large systemic vein that returns blood to the heart from the superior portion of the body
systemic circuit
blood flow to and from virtually all of the tissues of the body
trabeculae carneae
ridges of muscle covered by endocardium located in the ventricles
tricuspid valve
term used most often in clinical settings for the right atrioventricular valve
valve
in the cardiovascular system, a specialized structure located within the heart or vessels that ensures one-way flow of blood
ventricle
one of the primary pumping chambers of the heart located in the lower portion of the heart; the left ventricle is the major pumping chamber on the lower left side of the heart that ejects blood into the systemic circuit via the aorta and receives blood from the left atrium; the right ventricle is the major pumping chamber on the lower right side of the heart that ejects blood into the pulmonary circuit via the pulmonary trunk and receives blood from the right atrium