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Revise what has been covered on the anatomy of the heart and how the circulatory system works as part of the free online course on Heart Health.
This week we’ve been learning about the structure and function of the cardiovascular system. It’s important that we learn about how it works in good health so that we can better understand what can go wrong, why, and how we can try to prevent it. We started by learning about the circulatory system, the network of blood vessels that delivers oxygenated blood from the lungs to the body’s tissues and transports deoxygenated blood back to the lungs again. We learned about the structure of each of the blood vessels, and how it’s adapted to each function.
For example, the arteries, with their thicker smooth muscle layer that enables them to contract and relax, changing their diameter and directing blood to and from different parts of the body. We also learned about the veins, the capillaries, and lymphatic vessels. We learned about the blood that circulates within these vessels and the different roles for each of the different cells. Then we learned about the structure and function of the heart, its anatomy consisting of its four chambers, the two atria and the two ventricles. And the heart valves that ensure the blood flows through the heart in the right direction.
We learned about the four major blood vessels that enter and exit the heart - the aorta, the pulmonary artery, the vena cava, and the pulmonary veins - and, of course, the small coronary arteries that provide the vital blood and oxygen that enables the heart muscle itself to function. The function of the heart is to pump blood around the body. And this action is controlled by its electrical activity. This sends a wave through the tissues, making it contract in an organised fashion. Next week, we turn our attention to some of the specific cardiovascular diseases, when we’ll start by looking at angina, heart attacks, and strokes.

Dr Natasha Barrett reflects on how we have learnt about how a healthy heart and circulatory system works, so that we may understand more in the coming weeks about what happens when it is diseased.

Next week

Next week you’ll start to look at some of the problems that occur in the cardiovascular system and blood clotting processes such as haemostasis and thrombosis. You’ll also have the option to try a home practical investigating the effects of thrombosis using jelly and balloons.

Further resources

Throughout this course we provide links to resources and websites that contain valuable supplementary information. You may like to discover more about this week’s topics by following the links below, and feel free to share your own links with others in the comments.

Suitable for beginners

You can carry out further self-study by reading the chapter(s) on the cardiovascular system in any physiology text book.

You can explore specific cardiovascular diseases on several recommended websites:

Suitable for more experienced learners

  • Pubmed – Once you have searched for your chosen terms and obtained a list of possible articles, try selecting “free full text” under “Text availability” in the left hand menu to display articles that you will be able to access for free.

There are many journal articles freely available due to the public funding that led to the research. We advise against paying for articles to read for this course. If you find any great articles, do share this with others by posting a brief summary of the paper, a comment on the reliability of the paper along with the reference and a link to the paper if possible.

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Heart Health: A Beginner's Guide to Cardiovascular Disease

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