The Electrochemistry of Heartbeats
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The Electrochemistry of Heartbeats

Ever wondered how does your heart beat? Well then, take a look.

When someone is examined at a cardiac auscultation, the heart produces sounds because of the flow of blood that goes into the heart, this being called a heartbeat.

The heart consists mainly of muscles and, as any muscle, it contracts because of an electric signal. The electric signal is made by the transfer of ions from the cells and viceversa. The concentration of sodium ions is bigger in the cell and lower outside the cell. Through comparison, the potassium ions is lower in the cell and bigger outside the cell. These differences in the concentrations lead to potential difference that are named membrane potential.

Unlike other muscle categories, the heart is its own stimulator that is inserted in the circuit and maintains its beats even if the connection with the nerves are broken. The cells that control the heartbeats have a potential difference that depends only of the ionic concentrations of sodium and potassium.

All the cell membranes have a mechanism that assure the transportation of sodium ions from the exterior to the interior, and the potassium ions from the interior to the exterior of the cell. A part of the potassium ions go through the cell membrane and arrive in the exterior, generating through this process a negative potential. When the difference of the potential arrives in the cell membrane at a critical level, some channels are opening and the sodium ions are allowed to enter quickly in the cell. This process generates an electric discharge that is transmitted to the muscular cells of the heart, generating the heartbeat.

Calcium ions are also essential in the cardiac function. After the electric discharge that occures at the transfer of the sodium and potassium ions, the calcium ions are transffered into a cell in a fraction of a second. When the transfer of calcium ions is stopped, the potassium ions are reinittiating the process of transfer to the outside of the cell and will make another potential difference.

The concentration of potassium ions is very important for the function of this important biological function. Normally, the blood contains 3.5 mmols/L-5 mmols/L of potassium ions. The normal fraction between the concentration of potassium from the interior and the exterior is 30:1.

In cases when the concentration of potassium ions from the blood is too low, the cells are blocked and the heart stops beating. Also, if the concentration of potassium ions is too high, the potential difference is not high enough, and the cardiac rhythm gets lower until the heart stops.

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