Have you ever wondered what causes your heart to beat? Your heart beats as a result of the generation and conduction of electrical impulses. Cardiac conduction is the rate at which the heart conducts electrical impulses. These impulses cause the heart to contract and then relax. The constant cycle of heart muscle contraction followed by relaxation causes blood to be pumped throughout the body.
Step 1: Pacemaker Impulse GenerationThe sinoatrial (SA) node (also referred to as the pacemaker of the heart) contracts generating nerve impulses that travel throughout the heart wall. This causes both atria to contract. The SA node is located in the upper wall of the right atrium. It is composed of nodal tissue that has characteristics of both muscle and nervous tissue.
Step 2: AV Node Impulse ConductionThe atrioventricular (AV) node lies on the right side of the partition that divides the atria, near the bottom of the right atrium. When the impulses from the SA node reach the AV node they are delayed for about a tenth of a second. This delay allows the atria to contract and empty their contents first.
Step 3: AV Bundle Impulse ConductionThe impulses are then sent down the atrioventricular bundle. This bundle of fibers branches off into two bundles and the impulses are carried down the center of the heart to the left and right ventricles.
Step 4: Purkinje Fibers Impulse ConductionAt the base of the heart the atrioventricular bundles start to divide further into Purkinje fibers. When the impulses reach these fibers they trigger the muscle fibers in the ventricles to contract.
For more information on cardiac conduction see: Cardiac Conduction.