Medically Reviewed on April 24, 2013 by George Krucik, MD, MBA
Written and medically reviewed by the Healthline Editorial Team
Co-developed by:

In Depth: Heart

The heart not only plays an important part in our body, but it also has been a source of mystery for as long as humans have been exploring the human body.

Philosophers such as Aristotle believed the heart, not the brain, was the seat of emotion as well as thought and reason. Stoic philosophers believed the soul was contained within the heart.

However, as science progressed, so did our understanding of this vital organ. Simply put, the heart is a hollow, muscular organ composed of cardiac muscles and connective tissue that acts as a pump to distribute blood throughout the body.

The heart is the core of the circulatory system, which supplies the body with oxygen and other important nutrients needed to sustain life.

The heart has three layers. They are the:

  • Epicardum: This thin membrane is the outer-most layer of the heart.
  • Myocardium: This layer is the muscle that contracts to pump blood.
  • Endocardium: The inner-most layer is thin and smooth.

The heart is divided into four chambers: two atria and two ventricles. Blood is transported through the body via veins and arteries.

The average human heart weighs between 6 and 11 ounces. That muscle is strong enough to pump up to 2,000 gallons — as much as a fire department’s tanker truck — of blood through your body every day.

The average heart beats between 60 and 80 times per minute, but this depends on a person’s health and activity. The more physically fit people are, the lower their resting heart rates will be.

The body’s reaction to emotions and other stimuli affect the heart rate, which is why the heart was historically associated with emotions.

Although a broken heart is a favorite topic for poets and songwriters, a truly dysfunctional heart is a serious health concern that can lead to immediate death. Irregular or rapid heartbeats, dizziness, and chest pain are just a few signs of problems. Some common heart conditions include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Congenital heart defects
  • Peripheral artery disease
  • Enlarged heart

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