What makes your heart beat?

Let’s take a closer look inside the heart. The yellow objects are not nerves. They’re actually specialized cardiac muscle cells in the walls of the heart. Their job is to send signals to the rest of the heart muscle and cause a contraction. Together, this group of cells is called the Cardiac conduction system. The main components of the Cardiac conduction system are the SA node, AV node, Bundle of His, Bundle branches, and Purkinje fibers. Let’s follow a signal through the contraction process. The SA node starts the sequence by causing the atrial muscles to contract. That’s why doctors sometimes call it the anatomical pacemaker. From there, the signal travels to the AV node, through the Bundle of His, down the Bundle branches, and through the Purkinje fibers, causing the ventricles to contract. This signal creates an electrical current that can be seen on a graph called an Electrocardiogram, or EKG. Doctors us an EKG as a way of seeing how well the Cardiac conduction system works. Any changes to the EKG can mean serious problems.

What makes your heart beat?

Review Date: 5/20/2019

Reviewed By: Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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