Reference

Heart

The heart is one of the body's most essential organs.

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At Houston's Ben Taub Hospital, careful—and quick—steps are taken to prep a donor heart for transport and transplantation. To preserve the harvested heart, a member of the transplant team flushes it with a cooling solution that slows its metabolic rate. Doctors have a narrow window of only four to six hours to get the heart into the waiting recipient before it is no longer viable.


The heart is the body's engine room, responsible for pumping life-sustaining blood via a 60,000-mile-long (97,000-kilometer-long) network of vessels. The organ works ceaselessly, beating 100,000 times a day, 40 million times a year—in total clocking up three billion heartbeats over an average lifetime. It keeps the body freshly supplied with oxygen and nutrients, while clearing away harmful waste matter.

The fetal heart evolves through several different stages inside the womb, first resembling a fish's heart, then a frog's, which has two chambers, then a snake's, with three, before finally adopting the four-chambered structure of the human heart.

Function

About the size of its owner's clenched fist, the organ sits in the middle of the chest, behind the breastbone and between the lungs, in a moistened chamber that is protected all round by the rib cage. It's made up of a special kind of muscle (cardiac muscle) that works involuntarily, so we don't have to think about it. The heart speeds up or slow downs automatically in response to nerve signals from the brain that tell it how much the body is being exerted. Normally the heart contracts and relaxes between 70 and 80 times per minute, each heartbeat filling the four chambers inside with a fresh round of blood.

These cavities form two separate pumps on each side of the heart, which are divided by a wall of muscle called the septum. The upper chamber on each side is called the atrium. This is connected via a sealing valve to the larger, more powerful lower chamber, or ventricle. The left ventricle pumps most forcefully, which is why a person's heartbeat is felt more on the left side of the chest.

When the heart contracts, the chambers become smaller, forcing blood first out of the atria into the ventricles, then from each ventricle into a large blood vessel connected to the top of the heart. These vessels are the two main arteries. One of them, the pulmonary artery, takes blood to the lungs to receive oxygen. The other, the aorta, transports freshly oxygenated blood to the rest of the 500 Property 'pageGuid' not found on type com.nationalgeographic.componentry.sling.model.story.title.Title

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