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School Biology notes: Human circulatory system: Part 5. Monitoring the heart

The human circulatory system Part 5. How can we monitor the performance of the heart? What measurements can we make?

Heart rate, pulse rate, audio examination with stethoscope

Doc Brown's GCSE level Biology exam study revision notes

Index of notes on human circulatory system: heart, lungs & blood vessels


5. Monitoring the performance of the heart

Monitoring heart rate and blood pressure

Monitoring the condition and effectiveness is very important for the prevention and diagnosis of adverse heart conditions.

Blood pressure - the pressures created in your bloodstream by the pumping action of the heart.

Blood pressure (BP) is normally quoted with 'old' barometric height units of mm Hg (millimetres of mercury). There are two possible blood pressure readings:

Systolic BP (higher number) - the pressure created by the heart muscles in pumping blood out.

Diastolic BP (lower number):- the pressure in your heart, at rest between beats.

If the readings are higher than they should be, you may be suffering from hypertension and require further medical examination. This may caused by e.g. damaged heart muscle or partially blocked arteries, whatever, the situation needs seeing to!

Pulse rate - this is the rate at which your heart is beating e.g. normally 60-100 per minute.

The pulse is caused by the alternating increase in blood pressure as you heart pumps the blood around in you blood vessels. (It does not necessarily correlate with blood pressure)

The heart works on an autonomic muscle system and should beat at a steady rate, but increases with increase in more aerobic physical activity.

If under normal sedentary conditions it is too low or too high, it might indicate a heart problem.

For healthy people it tends to lower the older you get, but it tends to be lower for more aerobically fit people - regular exercise is good for your heart.

Audio examination - You listen to the sounds of the heart valves opening and closing using a stethoscope.

You can hear each individual valve of the heart opening and closing.

Any abnormality in the expected pattern can be picked in the audio output.

Electrocardiogram (ECG) - is a simple test that can be used to check your heart's rhythm and electrical activity.

Electrocardiography is the production of an electrocardiogram, a recording of the heart's electrical activity through repeated cardiac cycles of the heart as it pumps blood around the body.

The electrocardiogram of the heart is a graph of voltage versus time of the electrical activity of the heart using electrodes placed on the skin

The electrode sensors attached to your skin detect the electrical signals produced by your heart every time it beats.

These ECG signals are recorded by a machine and are looked at by a doctor to see if there is anything unusual in the pattern.

An ECG may be requested by a heart specialist (cardiologist) or any doctor who thinks you might have a problem with your heart.

You can perform an ECG just resting or doing a more aerobic exercise.


Summary of learning objectives and key words or phrases

Be able to explain what an electrocardiogram ECG is.

Be able describe ways of monitoring heart function and performance.

Be able to describe and understand a heart audio examination with a stethoscope, measurement of heart beat patterns, measuring pulse rate and measurement of blood pressure.


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