The heart is a muscular organ found in most vertebrates that is responsible for pumping blood throughout the blood vessels by repeated, rhythmic contractions. The term cardiac (as in cardiology) means “related to the heart” and comes from the Greek καρδιά, kardia, for “heart.”
The vertebrate heart is composed of cardiac muscle, an involuntary striated muscle tissue which is found only within this organ. The average human heart, beating at 72 beats per minute, will beat approximately 2.5 billion times during an average lifespan. It weighs on average 250 g to 300 g in females and 300 g to 350 g in males.
The mammalian heart is derived from embryonic mesoderm germ-layer cells that differentiate after gastrulation into mesothelium, endothelium, and myocardium. Mesothelial pericardium forms the inner lining of the heart. The outer lining of the heart, lymphatic and blood vessels develop from endothelium. Myocardium develops into heart muscle.
From splanchnopleuric mesoderm tissue, the cardiogenic plate develops cranially and laterally to the neural plate. In the cardiogenic plate, two separate angiogenic cell clusters form on either side of the embryo. Each cell cluster coalesces to form an endocardial tube continuous with a dorsal aorta and a vitteloumbilical vein. As embryonic tissue continues to fold, the two endocardial tubes are pushed into the thoracic cavity, begin to fuse together and are completely fused at approximately 21 days.
At 21 days after conception, the human heart begins beating at 70 to 80 beats per minute and accelerates linearly for the first month of beating.
The human embryonic heart begins beating around 21 days after conception, or five weeks after the last normal menstrual period (LMP), which is the date normally used to date pregnancy. It is unknown how blood in the human embryo circulates for the first 21 days in the absence of a functioning heart. The human heart begins beating at a rate near the mother’s, about 75-80 beats per minute (BPM).
The embryonic heart rate (EHR) then accelerates approximately 100 BPM during the first month of beating, peaking at 165-185 BPM during the early 7th week, (early 9th week after the LMP). This acceleration is approximately 3.3 BPM per day, or about 10 BPM every three days, an increase of 100 BPM in the first month. After 9.1 weeks after the LMP, it decelerates to about 152 BPM (+/-25 BPM) during the 15th week after the LMP. After the 15th week the deceleration slows reaching an average rate of about 145 (+/-25 BPM) BPM at term. The regression formula which describes this acceleration before the embryo reaches 25 mm in crown-rump length or 9.2 LMP weeks is: Age in days = EHR(0.3)+6. There is no difference in male and female heart rates before birth.
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