Heart Disease Home > Cardiovascular System
Arteries of the Heart
The arteries are major blood vessels connected to the human heart:
- The pulmonary artery carries blood pumped from the right side of the heart to the lungs to pick up a fresh supply of oxygen.
- The aorta is the main artery that carries oxygen-rich blood pumped from the left side of the heart out to the body.
- The coronary arteries are the other important arteries attached to the heart. They carry oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle, which must have its own blood supply to function.
Veins of the Heart
The veins are major blood vessels connected to the human heart:
- The pulmonary veins carry oxygen-rich blood from the lungs to the left side of the heart so that it can be pumped out to the body
- The venae cavae are two large veins that carry oxygen-poor blood from the body back to the heart.
Electrical Pathways in the Heart
There is a group of cells in the right atrium called the SA, or sinoatrial, node. It's also known as the "pacemaker." This pacemaker produces an electrical signal that spreads out over the muscles of both atria, causing the chambers to contract and push blood into the ventricles. The electrical signal travels so fast that it causes both chambers to contract uniformly.
However, this signal can't continue on to the ventricles because they are insulated from the atria. The only way the signal can get there is through another group of cells in the right atrium called the AV (atrioventricular) node. Here, the electrical signal slows down and then continues on to the ventricles. This causes the ventricles to contract, too, but not until the atria do first. The slowing of the signal at the AV node gives the atria time to fill the ventricles with blood before the ventricles contract to push the blood out of the heart. After the ventricles contract, the signal fades, and the SA node sends out another electrical impulse.
This sequence is what you are hearing when you hear the usual "lub-dup" beat of your heart. Normally, the SA node sends out a signal 60 to 100 times every minute. Notice how this is a smooth process that results in heartbeats that happen at a regular rate and rhythm. This continuous and controlled cycle is called a normal sinus rhythm.