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Heart Beat and Heart Function

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Understanding Heart Function

The heart is a muscular pump who’s main function is to maintain the blood supply throughout the entire body. It has two upper chambers called the right and left atrium. These chambers receive blood that returns from the other body parts through the veins. The lower chambers which are the right and left ventricles pump the blood from the heart to the other body parts through the arteries.

The heart is powered by the Cardiac Conduction System that generates electrical signals that cause the muscles to contract. It also regulates the heartbeat rhythm and rate. During every single heartbeat, an electrical impulse travels from the top of the heart to its bottom, making the heart contract and pump blood.

The image illustrates the hart beat and heart function with a graph.
Image Credit: mayoclinic.org

How Does the Heart Work?

A normal heartbeat is the regular movement of the heart as it pumps blood around your body. The contraction of the atria and ventricles constitutes one heartbeat. Your heart’s own electrical system determines your heart rate. Let’s understand how a single heartbeat happens:

  • The heartbeat begins at the right atrium where the Sinoatrial Node or SA node is present and is generated by the pacemaker cells also present here.
  • The signal is sent through the atria, which contract and push blood into the lower chambers of the heart or ventricles.
  • From the atria, the signal moves to the pacemaker cells situated between the atria and ventricles. This is called the Atrio Ventricular (AV) node. At this point, the pace of the signal slows down a little, allowing blood to fill the ventricles.
  • The AV node sends a second signal to the walls of your ventricles, causing them to squeeze and push blood into the aortic valve to the rest of the body.
  • As the ventricles return to normalcy the pacemaker cells fireup another electrical impulse and the entire process resumes from the Sinoatrial Node.
A close-up image of a medical professional explaining the heart function with the help of a heart model.

Heart Health Insights: The Impact of Heart Rate

Your heart rate determines your heart’s function. A healthy heart rate keeps the heart functioning long and strong. A normal heart rhythm is your lifeline because, with every heartbeat, your heart supplies vital nutrients and oxygen to your entire body. Your heart's performance or Cardiac Output is directly connected to your heart rate and stroke volume, or the amount of blood pumped out with each beat.

The normal heart rate is anything between 60 to 100 beats per minute. Anything lesser than 60 beats per minute is called Bradycardia or “slow heart”. If the heart rate is above 100, it is called Tachycardia or “fast heart”. You can also tell by feeling your pulse whether the rhythm is regular, irregular, or a mix of both. A regular beating heart can sometimes be impacted by its own electrical system. In such cases, you may experience:

  • Arrhythmia or irregular heart rhythm. Arrhythmias such as Atrial Fibrillation are extremely common.
  • Conduction issues occur either when electrical impulses are not generated properly or do stop traveling throughout the heart properly, or both.
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Rhythm of Risk: Conditions Linked to Abnormal Heartbeat

Cardiac Arrhythmia is the term used to describe the variation in heartbeat or pulse rate. Arrhythmia or Dysrhythmia is an abnormal heartbeat. Whenever the pulse rate drops below 50/min it is called Bradyarrhythmia, and a pulse rate above 100/min is called Tachyarrhythmia. The reason could be physiological or pathological.

Under typical conditions, your heart exhibits a well-ordered and synchronized rhythm. However, complications involving different parts of your heart, or even issues with the blood it circulates, can disrupt this regular beat, leading to an abnormal heart rhythm. Issues with your heart’s arteries, muscles, or valves are the most common reasons for Arrhythmia.

Diagnosing Arrhythmia- Tests We Use
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Your Questions, Our Answers: Heart Health FAQs

The prime function of the heart is to pump blood throughout the entire body. To perform this function, it requires an electrical impulse or spark plug to initiate a heartbeat. The electrical impulse or heartbeat commences in the right atrium or the heart's upper right chamber in a specific spot knows as the Sino-Atrial node or SA node. This is the heart’s natural pacemaker.

The SA node generates electrical impulses to generate a heartbeat sixty to hundred times per minute. Your heart rate will be faster during exercise, strenuous work, and mental stress, and slows down when at rest. Certain medications may also slow down your heart rate. All of this is quite normal.

Although there is a connection between the heart and pulse rate, they are not the same. The heart rate refers to the speed at which the heart beats at a given time. Your pulse rate, however, refers to how you can feel your heart rate.

Dr Karthigesan, our Cardiac Electrophysiology and heart rhythm specialist, will conduct a preliminary evaluation and do the necessary diagnostic tests to ascertain the reason for your pulse rate variation. He will then decide on the appropriate medical or interventional treatment for your Arrhythmia.

Several reasons can contribute to changes in the heart rate, such as:

  • Fever
  • Illnesses
  • Anxiety
  • Physical activity
  • Dehydration
  • Medications
  • Other health concerns

The primary function of the heart’s electrical system is to signal your heart when to relax and contract to ensure regular pumping of blood. These instructions are carried from the Sinus Node or the heart’s natural pacemaker through electrical signals at a steady pace. However, your emotions, actions, or resting physical state can influence your heart rate.

A cardiac electrophysiologist or a cardiologist is the specialist who diagnoses and identifies the reason for the abnormal heartbeat. After diagnosis, we will also give you the proper treatment to manage the medical condition.

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