Blood flows through the heart in one direction only. It is prevented from backing up by a series of valves at various openings: the tricuspid valve between the right atrium and right ventricle; the bicuspid, or mitral, valve between the left atrium and left ventricle; and the semilunar valves in the aorta and the pulmonary artery. Each heartbeat, or cardiac cycle, is divided into two phases. In the first phase, a short period of ventricular contraction known as the systole, the tricuspid and mitral valves snap shut, producing the familiar "lub" sound heard in the physician's stethoscope. In the second phase, a slightly longer period of ventricular relaxation known as the diastole, the pulmonary and aortic valves close up, producing the characteristic "dub" sound. Both sides of the heart contract, empty, relax, and fill simultaneously; therefore, only one systole and one diastole are felt. The normal heart has a rate of 72 beats per minute, but in infants the rate may be as high as 120 beats, and in children about 90 beats, per minute. Each heartbeat is stimulated by an electrical impulse that originates in a small strip of heart tissue known as the sinoatrial (S-A) node, or pacemaker.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.