There is no single better word to describe the function of the heart other than “pump,” since its contraction develops the pressure that ejects blood into the major vessels: the aorta and pulmonary trunk. From these vessels, the blood is distributed to the remainder of the body. Although the connotation of the term “pump” suggests a mechanical device made of steel and plastic, the anatomical structure is a living, sophisticated muscle. Try to keep these twin concepts in mind: pump and muscle.

Although the term “heart” is an English word, cardiac (heart-related) terminology can be traced back to the Latin term,

“kardia.” Cardiology is the study of the heart, and cardiologists are the physicians who deal primarily with the heart.

Recall that cardiac muscle shares a few characteristics with both skeletal muscle and smooth muscle, but it has some unique properties of its own. Not the least of these exceptional properties is its ability to initiate an electrical potential at a fixed rate that spreads rapidly from cell to cell to trigger the contractile mechanism. This property is known as autorhythmicity. Neither smooth nor skeletal muscle can do this. Even though cardiac muscle has autorhythmicity, heart rate is modulated by the endocrine and nervous systems.

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