Anatomy of the Human Heart


Heart 2.jpg
The heart is a muscular organ that serves to collect deoxygenated blood from all parts of the body, carries it to the lungs to be oxygenated and release carbon dioxide. Then, it transports the oxygenated blood from the lungs and distributes it to all the body parts[1].
  • The heart pumps around 7,200 litres of blood in a day throughout the body[2].
  • The heart is situated at the centre of the chest and points slightly towards the left.
  • On average, the heart beats about 100,000 times a day, i.e., around 3 billion beats in a lifetime.
  • The average male heart weights around 280 to 340 grams (10 to 12 ounces). In females, it weights around 230 to 280 grams (8 to 10 ounces). Infants heart - about a thirtieth of total body weight[3]
  • An adult heart beats about 60 to 80 times per minute, and newborn babies heart beats faster than an adult which is about 70 to 190 beats per minute.

It is important to note that, the blood pumped by the heart also circulates many other important substances[1][4] such as:

  1. Nutrients from digestion are collected from the small intestine and pumped through the circulatory system to be delivered to all cells of the body.
  2. Hormones are produced from one type of tissues and distributed to all cells of the body. The circulatory system carries waste materials (salts, nitrogenous wastes, and excess water) from cells to the kidneys, where they are extracted and passed to the bladder.
  3. The pumping of interstitial fluid from the blood into the extracellular space is an important function of the heart. Excess interstitial fluid is then returned to the circulatory system via the lymphatic system.


Chest auscultation.jpg

Location of the Heart

The heart is roughly in a plane that runs from the right shoulder to the left nipple.

  • It lies in the protective thorax, posterior to the sternum and costal cartilages, and rests on the superior surface of the diaphragm.  
  • The heart is located between the two lungs in the space referred to as the mediastinum (the space in the chest between the pleural sacs of the lungs that contains all the tissues and organs of the chest except the lungs and pleurae).
  • The human heart assumes an oblique position in the thorax, one-third of the heart is located on the right side, while two-thirds are located on the left side of the midline.
  • The base is located below the third rib as it approaches the sternum (note that the sternal angle occurs at the level of the second rib).
  • The base is directed superiorly to the right of midline and posterior.
  • The pointed apex projects to the left of thmidline and anterior. Thus, the heartbeat can be most easily heard at the left fifth intercostal space, 8-9 cm from the midsternal line (just inferior to the left nipple).[5][6]

Layers of the Heart Walls

The heart wall consists of three layers enclosed in the pericardium[1][4][6]:

Heart layers.jpg
  1. Epicardium - the outer layer of the wall of the heart and is formed by the visceral layer of the serous pericardium.

2. Myocardium - the muscular middle layer of the wall of the heart and has excitable tissue and the conducting system. It is composed of three discernable layers of muscle that are seen predominantly in the left ventricle and inter-ventricular septum alone. It includes:

  • A subepicardial layer
  • A middle concentric layer
  • A subendocardial layer.

The rest of the heart is composed mainly of the subepicardial and subendocardial layers.

3. Endocardium - the innermost layer of the heart is formed of the endothelium and subendothelial connective tissue

Chambers of the Heart

Circulatory system.gif

The heart functionally consists of two pumps separated by a partition.

  • The right pump receives deoxygenated blood from the body and sends it to the lungs.
  • The left pump receives oxygenated blood from the lungs and sends it to the body.
  • Each pump consists of an atrium and a ventricle separated by a valve.
  • The heart is divided into four distinct chambers with muscular walls of different thickness
  • The left atrium (LA) and right atrium (RA) are small, thin-walled chambers located just above the left ventricle (LV) and right ventricle (RV), respectively.  
  • The ventricles are larger thick-walled chambers that perform most of the work.  
  • The atria receive blood from the venous system and lungs and then contract and eject the blood into the ventricles.

The Left Atrium

  • Receives oxygenated blood from the lungs via the left and right pulmonary veins.
  • The pulmonary veins enter the heart as two pairs of veins inserting posteriorly and laterally into the left atrium. In addition, the smallest (Thebesian) veins drain deoxygenated blood from the atrial myocardium directly into the atrium.
  • The left atrium is found midline, posterior to the right atrium and superior to the left ventricle.
  • Anteriorly, a left atrial appendage (auricle) extends over the atrioventricular (coronary) sulcus.
  • The walls of the atrial appendage are pectinate, and the walls of the left atrium are smooth.
  • It discharges into the left ventricle through the mitral valve[7][8]

The Right Atrium

The interior of the right atrium has three anatomically distinct regions.

1. Posterior part - is a smooth-walled and is termed sinus venarum.;

2. Anterior part - which is lined by horizontal, parallel ridges of muscle bundles that resemble the teeth of a comb, hence the name pectinate muscle (pectin = "a comb,")

3. Atrial septum - receives both the superior and inferior venae cavae and the coronary sinus. It also contains the fossa ovalis, the sinoatrial node and the atrioventricular node.

On the "floor" of the right atrium is the atrioventricular portion of the atrial septum, which has muscular and membranous components. At the anterior and inferior aspect of the atrial septum, the tricuspid valve annulus (annulus = "ring") is attached to the membranous septum.

The Left Ventricle

  • It pumps blood throughout the body via the aorta.
  • Most of the left lateral surface of the heart is formed by the left ventricle, also forming part of the inferior and posterior surface.
  • Abundant trabeculae carneae characterize the walls of the left relatively
  • LV apex is less trabeculated than the RV apex.
  • In contrast to the right ventricle, the muscular ridges tend to be relatively fine and the myocardium in the wall of the left ventricle is three times thicker; thickest towards the base and thinnest towards the apex.
  • The interventricular septum appears from within the left ventricle to bulge into the right ventricle; this creates a barrel-shaped left ventricle. It is made of an inlet portion comprised of mitral valve apparatus, subaortic outflow portion and a trabeculated apical zone[7][9].

The Right Ventricle

It pumps blood to the lungs through the pulmonary trunk and arteries.

It comprised of an

  1. The Inlet - extends from tricuspid annulus to the insertions of the papillary muscles. Abundant, coarse trabeculae carneae ("beams of meat") characterize the walls of the right ventricle. Trabeculae carneae are similar to pectinate muscle of the right atrium (as bundles of myocardium) .
  2. Outflow tract - conus arteriosus ("arterial cone") or infundibulum ("funnel"), carries blood out of the ventricle in an anterior-superior direction and is relatively smooth walled. A component of the conus arteriosus forms part of the interventricular septum. This small septum, the infundibular (conal) septum, separates the left and right ventricular outflow tracts and is located just inferior to both semilunar valves[7].

Heart Valves

The heart has the Four valves.

Pulmonary Valve - The opening into the pulmonary trunk is closed by the pulmonary valve, which consists of three semilunar cusps with free edges projecting upward into the lumen of the pulmonary trunk thus prevents the backflow of blood as it is pumped from the right ventricle to the pulmonary artery. The cusps are named the left, right and anterior semilunar cusps, relative to their fetal position. Each cusp forms a pocket-like sinus; a dilation in the wall of the initial portion of the pulmonary trunk.[6]

Heart Valves.jpg

Tricuspid Valve - The right atrioventricular opening is closed during ventricular contraction by the tricuspid valve (right atrioventricular valve) thus prevents the backflow of blood as it is pumped from the right atrium to the right ventricle. It’s named tricuspid valve because it made up of three cusps or leaflets.  The naming of the three cusps, the anterior, septal, and posterior cusps, is based on their position in relation to the right ventricle. 

Aortic Valve - The opening from the left ventricle into the aorta is closed by the aortic valve thus prevents the backflow of blood as it is pumped from the left ventricle to the aorta. It consists of three semilunar cusps with the free edge of each projecting upward into the lumen of the ascending aorta. Between the semilunar cusps and the wall of the ascending aorta are pocket-like sinuses-the right, left, and posterior aortic sinuses. The right and left coronary arteries emanates from the right and left aortic sinuses; Thus, the posterior aortic sinus and cusp are sometimes called noncoronary sinus and cusp.

Mitral Valve - The left atrioventricular orifice opens into the posterior right side of the superior part of the left ventricle. It is closed during ventricular contraction by the mitral valve (left atrioventricular valve), which is also referred to as the bicuspid valve as it has two cusps; the anterior and posterior cusps.  It prevents the backflow of blood as it is pumped from the left atrium to the left ventricle and are continuous with each other at the commissures.[6][5] 

Blood Supply

Arterial Blood Supply to the Heart

The heart has 2 main arteries that supply it and the are namely

The RCA supplies:

  1. The right atrium via the atrial branch
  2. Most of the right ventricle.
  3. Part of the left ventricle (the diaphragmatic surface) via the posterior interventricular branch
  4. Part (usually the posterior third) of the IV septum via the right marginal branch
  5. The SA node (in approximately 60% of people) via the sino-nodal branch
  6. The AV node (in approximately 80% of people) via the atrioventricular branch

The LCA supplies:

  1. The left atrium via the anterior interventricular branch (left anterior descending artery-LAD)
  2. Most of the left ventricle via the diagonal, circumflex and left marginal artery branches 
  3. The Heart surface view.jpg
    Part of the right ventricle. 
  4. Most of the IVS (usually its anterior two thirds), including the AV bundle of the conducting system of the heart, through its perforating IV septal branches. 
  5. The SA node (in approximately 40% of people). 

Venous Drainage of the Heart

The heart is drained mainly by veins that empty into the coronary sinus and partly by small veins that empty into the right atrium.

  1. The coronary sinus is a wide venous channel that runs from left to right in the posterior part of the coronary groove. It receives the great cardiac vein at its left end and the middle cardiac vein and small cardiac veins at its right end. The left posterior ventricular vein which drains the posterior surface of the left ventricule and left marginal vein also open into the coronary sinus.
  2. The great cardiac vein is the main tributary of the coronary sinus and it drains the areas of the heart supplied by the LCA. The middle cardiac vein (posterior IV vein) accompanies the posterior interventricular branch (usually arising from the RCA) and a small cardiac vein accompanies the right marginal branch of the RCA. Thus these two veins drain most of the areas commonly supplied by the RCA.
  3. The anterior cardiac veins begin over the anterior surface of the right ventricle, cross over the coronary groove, and usually end directly in the right atrium; sometimes they enter the small cardiac vein

Lymphatic Drainage of the Heart

The lymphatic vessels drain mainly into:

  1. Brachiocephalic nodes, in front of brachiocephalic veins
  2. Tracheobronchial nodes, located at the distal end of the trachea[5].[6] 

Nerve Supply

The nerve supply to the heart is from two sets of nerves originating in the medulla of the brain.

The nerves are part of the involuntary (autonomic) nervous system.

  • One set, the branches from the vagus nerve, keeps the heart beating at a slow, regular rate.
  • The other set, the cardiac accelerator nerves, speeds up the heart.
  • The heart muscle has a special ability; it contracts automatically, but the nerve supply is needed to provide an effective contraction for blood circulation.

Branches from both the parasympathetic and sympathetic systems contribute to the formation of the cardiac plexus[6]. Branches from the cardiac plexus affect nodal tissue and other components of the conduction system, coronary blood vessels, and atrial and ventricular musculature.

Parasympathetic  preganglionic fibers reach the heart as cardiac branches from the right and left vagus nerves. Stimulation of the parasympathetic system decreases heart rate, reduces force of contraction and constricts the coronary arteries.

Sympathetic fibers (from the upper four or five segments of the thoracic spinal cord ) reach the heart through the cardiac nerves from the sympathetic trunk. Stimulation of the sympathetic system increases heart rate and increases the force of contraction. From the cardiac plexus small branches, which are mixed nerves containing both sympathetic and parasympathetic fibers, supply the heart.

Visceral afferents fibers from the heart, a part of the cardiac plexus pass through the cardiac plexus and return to the central nervous system in the cardiac nerves from the sympathetic trunk and in the vagal cardiac branches.

The afferents associated with the vagal cardiac nerves return to the vagus nerve [X] and mainly concerned with cardiac reflexes.

The afferents associated with the cardiac nerves from the sympathetic trunks return to either the cervical or the thoracic portions of the sympathetic trunk and conduct pain sensation from the heart, which is detected at the cellular level as tissue-damaging events (i.e. cardiac ischemia).

Within the heart muscle itself, there are special groups of nerve fibers that conduct impulses for contraction. These groups make up the conduction system of the heart[1][6][5]. When the conduction system does not operate properly, the heart muscle contractions are uncoordinated and ineffective. The impulses within the heart muscle are tiny electric currents, which can be picked up and recorded by the electrocardiogram.

Relevance to Physiotherapy

  1. Heart location 2.jpg
    The surface markings of the heart and the position of the apex beat can show if the heart has shifted its position in relation to the chest wall or if the heart is enlarged by disease. The position of the margins of the heart can be determined by percussion (Snell, 2000).
  2. Percussion defines the density and size of the heart. It is performed at the 3rd, 4th, and 5th intercostal spaces from the left anterior axillary line to the right anterior axillary line.
  3. The pericardial sac is influenced by movements of the heart and great vessel, sternum, and diaphragm. The heart moves downwards on deep inspiration since the heart’s position depends on that of the diaphragm.
  4. The fibrous pericardium protects the heart against sudden overfilling and anchors it within the mediastinum.
  5. If a coronary artery becomes obstructed, by a blood clot for example, part of the myocardium becomes ischemic, that is, deprived of its blood supply. Prolonged ischemia will create an infarct, an area of necrotic (dead) tissue. This is a myocardial infarction, commonly called a heart attack (myocardial infarction).

See also, as relevant to physiotherapy: Acute Coronary Syndrome; Physical Activity and Cardiovascular Disease; Cardiac Rehabilitation; Myocardial Infarction; Atrial Fibrillation.


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