By Shan Silva

No other organ of the body is as wonderful as the heart. It begins beating before birth and continues without interruption for “three score years and ten” and even longer in many cases. It cannot rest for longer than a fraction of a second at anyone time, for if it were to rest for an unbroken period of even three minutes the individual concerned would lose his mental powers; a little longer and the person would die.

Because the heart is the “vital organ” and also because of many vague and erroneous ideas held about it, a study of its anatomy and functions and a brief survey of diseases that affect it will be profitable and interesting.

There are four chambers in the heart, two above and two below. The upper right chamber receives the impure blood returning from the body through the inferior and superior vena cava. The contraction of the auricle forces the blood to the lower chamber (right ventricle) which in turn sends the blood into the lungs.

Returning from the lungs through four vessels leading directly into the left auricle it goes to the left ventricle below and is forced into the aorta and on through the body. In the wall of the right auricle is an area which sends out the impulse for the auricles to contract. This impulse extends in a circular direction through both auricles. When it reaches the septum or the dividing wall of the lower chambers (ventricles) it contacts what is known as the “Bundle of His.” This transmits a signal to the lower chambers (ventricles) to stimulate their contraction. The signal is so precisely timed that the contraction of the ventricles follows that of the auricles just enough later that the blood in the auricles is forced into the ventricles to fill them before the ventricles contract. Both auricles contract at the same time. Both ventricles contract a fraction of a second later.

After this, stimulation to contract is suspended for an instant, during which period the heart rests, thus getting its rest piecemeal instead of in long stretches as other muscles do. The circulation of the blood in the heart muscle itself comes from the aorta and flows through two arteries called the anterior and the posterior coronaries.

Occasionally infants are born with deformities of the heart that do not allow the blood to circulate properly. The result is a lack of oxygen carried to the tissues, from which fact the term “blue babies” has evolved. Most of these babies die early but some of them can be cured by surgery.

If a baby’s heart at birth is normal there is no need to worry about its functioning properly. It will do its work without special attention till the degenerative process of old age sets in. The only exception to this rule is in cases where an infection such as syphilis, diphtheria or rheumatic fever disables the heart. Of all such possibilities the latter is by far the most common. A person born with a good heart will rarely have any trouble with it before the declining years of life unless he contracts one of the above-named diseases.

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