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Heart Beat

How does the heart beat?

The atria and ventricles work together, alternately contracting and relaxing to pump blood through your heart. The electrical system of your heart is the power source that makes this possible.

Your heartbeat is triggered by electrical impulses that travel down a special pathway through your heart.

  • SA node (sinoatrial node) - known as the heart's natural pacemaker
    The impulse starts in a small bundle of specialized cells located in the right atrium, called the SA node. The electrical activity spreads through the walls of the atria and causes them to contract.
  • AV node (atrioventricular node)
    The AV node is a cluster of cells in the center of the heart between the atria and ventricles, and acts like a gate that slows the electrical signal before it enters the ventricles. This delay gives the atria time to contract before the ventricles do.
  • His-Purkinje Network
    This pathway of fibers sends the impulse to the muscular walls of the ventricles and causes them to contract.

At rest, a normal heart beats around 50 to 99 times a minute. Exercise, emotions, fever and some medications can cause your heart to beat faster, sometimes to well over 100 beats per minute.

Print out a diagram of the Electrical System of the Heart. Adobe Acrobat is needed to view this file. Download a free version of Adobe Acrobat.*

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This information is provided by Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition.

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