Understanding Your Heart and How it Functions

The heart functions as the body's transportation system of oxygen and nutrients.

Your heart delivers oxygen and nutrients throughout the body, regulates blood pressure, and maintains overall health and wellness. To keep your heart functioning properly, you must take the right steps to protect your heart health. While many know the best practices for heart health, you may not understand how your heart functions. For example, you know that the heart pumps blood throughout the body—but do you know the details of this process? The answer for many is no. Gain a deeper understanding with a basic overview of the heart and its responsibilities.

The anatomy of the heart directly impacts how it functions.

How the Heart Functions

Your heart beats around 100,000 times per day. As it does so, it pumps approximately 5,000 gallons of blood throughout the body. With each contraction, the left side of the heart receives blood from the lungs and pushes it out to the remainder of the body. At the same time, the right side receives deoxygenated blood and passes it on to the lungs. Now that you know the primary responsibility of the heart, let’s look at the functions of its four chambers.

What Does the Right Atrium Do?

The right atrium is located on the upper right side of the heart. This chamber also has a small structure called the sinoatrial (SA) node, which acts as the heart’s natural pacemaker. By generating electrical impulses, this node regulates the heart’s rhythm.

The right atrium receives deoxygenated blood via the superior and inferior vena cava, the largest veins in the human body. The right atrium then contracts and pumps this blood into the right ventricle.

What Does the Right Ventricle Do?

The right ventricle on the lower right side of the heart has a thinner muscular wall than the left ventricle. This is because it only needs to pump blood to the lungs, which are much closer to the heart than other organs. The right ventricle is also the location of the tricuspid valve. When the right atrium contracts, this valve prevents blood from flowing backward.

Upon receiving blood from the right atrium, the right ventricle pushes blood through the pulmonary artery to the lungs. Here, the blood receives oxygen and loses carbon dioxide.

What Does the Left Atrium Do?

The left atrium, located on the upper left side of the heart, is separated from the right atrium by a muscular wall called the interatrial septum. It has thinner walls than the ventricles and does not need to generate as much force to pump blood. The left atrium also has a unique feature called the left atrial appendage. This small pouch-like extension serves as a reservoir and helps regulate blood flow. 

Once the left atrium receives oxygen-rich blood via the pulmonary veins, it pumps it into the left ventricle.

What Does the Left Ventricle Do?

The left ventricle is located on the lower left side of the heart. It has a thick muscular wall compared to the other chambers of the heart. This thickness generates enough force to pump blood to the entire body. The left ventricle also houses the mitral valve, which prevents blood from flowing back into the left atrium.

After the left ventricle has received oxygen-rich blood from the left atrium, it contracts and delivers it to the rest of the body through the aorta.

Keeping Your Heart Healthy

With an understanding of how the heart functions, you can take steps to protect your heart health. Healthy practices include maintaining a balanced diet, exercising regularly, smoking cessation, managing stress, and getting enough sleep. When the heart is not functioning correctly, it increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, and heart failure. Adopting healthy practices helps you take control of your heart health to live a longer, healthier life.

Are you ready to learn more about your heart and what you can do to keep it healthy? Contact Cardiovascular Institute of the South. Our cardiologists can help you understand your current heart health and find achievable methods to improve its condition. Request an appointment today or call your closest clinic location to speak with a helpful member of our team!

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CIS Staff

Written by CIS Staff