Anatomy and Function of the Heart's Electrical System
The heart's electrical system
In the simplest terms, the heart is a pump made up of muscle tissue. Like all muscle,
the heart needs a source of energy and oxygen to function. The heart's pumping action is
regulated by an electrical conduction system that coordinates the contraction of the
various chambers of the heart.
How does the heart beat?
An electrical stimulus is generated by the sinus node (also called the sinoatrial
node, or SA node). This is a small mass of specialized tissue located in the right
upper chamber (atria) of the heart. The sinus node generates an electrical stimulus
regularly, 60 to 100 times per minute under normal conditions. The atria are then
activated. The electrical stimulus travels down through the conduction pathways and
causes the heart's ventricles to contract and pump out blood. The 2 upper chambers
of the heart (atria) are stimulated first and contract for a short period of time
before the 2 lower chambers of the heart (ventricles).
The electrical impulse travels from the sinus node to the atrioventricular node (also
called AV node). There, impulses are slowed down for a very short period, then continue
down the conduction pathway via the bundle of His into the ventricles. The bundle
of His divides into right and left pathways, called bundle branches, to stimulate
the right and left ventricles.
Normally at rest, as the electrical impulse moves through the heart, the heart contracts
about 60 to 100 times a minute, depending on a person's age.
Each contraction of the ventricles represents one heartbeat. The atria contract a
fraction of a second before the ventricles so their blood empties into the ventricles
before the ventricles contract.