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[link] illustrates the relationship between the cardiac cycle and the ECG.

Relationship between the cardiac cycle and ecg

This image shows the correlation between the cardiac cycle and the different stages in a electrocardiogram.
Initially, both the atria and ventricles are relaxed (diastole). The P wave represents depolarization of the atria and is followed by atrial contraction (systole). Atrial systole extends until the QRS complex, at which point, the atria relax. The QRS complex represents depolarization of the ventricles and is followed by ventricular contraction. The T wave represents the repolarization of the ventricles and marks the beginning of ventricular relaxation.

Heart sounds

One of the simplest, yet effective, diagnostic techniques applied to assess the state of a patient’s heart is auscultation using a stethoscope.

In a normal, healthy heart, there are only two audible heart sounds    : S 1 and S 2 . S 1 is the sound created by the closing of the atrioventricular valves during ventricular contraction and is normally described as a “lub,” or first heart sound. The second heart sound, S 2 , is the sound of the closing of the semilunar valves during ventricular diastole and is described as a “dub” ( [link] ). In both cases, as the valves close, the openings within the atrioventricular septum guarded by the valves will become reduced, and blood flow through the opening will become more turbulent until the valves are fully closed. There is a third heart sound, S 3 , but it is rarely heard in healthy individuals. It may be the sound of blood flowing into the atria, or blood sloshing back and forth in the ventricle, or even tensing of the chordae tendineae. S 3 may be heard in youth, some athletes, and pregnant women. If the sound is heard later in life, it may indicate congestive heart failure, warranting further tests. Some cardiologists refer to the collective S 1 , S 2 , and S 3 sounds as the “Kentucky gallop,” because they mimic those produced by a galloping horse. The fourth heart sound, S 4 , results from the contraction of the atria pushing blood into a stiff or hypertrophic ventricle, indicating failure of the left ventricle. S 4 occurs prior to S 1 and the collective sounds S 4 , S 1 , and S 2 are referred to by some cardiologists as the “Tennessee gallop,” because of their similarity to the sound produced by a galloping horse with a different gait. A few individuals may have both S 3 and S 4 , and this combined sound is referred to as S 7 .

Heart sounds and the cardiac cycle

This image shows a graph of the blood pressure with the different stages labeled. Under the graph, a line shows the different sounds made by the beating heart.
In this illustration, the x-axis reflects time with a recording of the heart sounds. The y-axis represents pressure.

The term murmur    is used to describe an unusual sound coming from the heart that is caused by the turbulent flow of blood. Murmurs are graded on a scale of 1 to 6, with 1 being the most common, the most difficult sound to detect, and the least serious. The most severe is a 6. Phonocardiograms or auscultograms can be used to record both normal and abnormal sounds using specialized electronic stethoscopes.

During auscultation, it is common practice for the clinician to ask the patient to breathe deeply. This procedure not only allows for listening to airflow, but it may also amplify heart murmurs. Inhalation increases blood flow into the right side of the heart and may increase the amplitude of right-sided heart murmurs. Expiration partially restricts blood flow into the left side of the heart and may amplify left-sided heart murmurs. [link] indicates proper placement of the bell of the stethoscope to facilitate auscultation.

Stethoscope placement for auscultation

This image shows the points on the human chest where the stethoscope can be placed to hear the heart beat.
Proper placement of the bell of the stethoscope facilitates auscultation. At each of the four locations on the chest, a different valve can be heard.

Chapter review

The cardiac cycle comprises a complete relaxation and contraction of both the atria and ventricles, and lasts approximately 0.8 seconds. Beginning with all chambers in diastole, blood flows passively from the veins into the atria and past the atrioventricular valves into the ventricles. The atria begin to contract (atrial systole), following depolarization of the atria, and pump blood into the ventricles. The ventricles begin to contract (ventricular systole), raising pressure within the ventricles. When ventricular pressure rises above the pressure in the atria, blood flows toward the atria, producing the first heart sound, S 1 or lub. As pressure in the ventricles rises above two major arteries, blood pushes open the two semilunar valves and moves into the pulmonary trunk and aorta in the ventricular ejection phase. Following ventricular repolarization, the ventricles begin to relax (ventricular diastole), and pressure within the ventricles drops. As ventricular pressure drops, there is a tendency for blood to flow back into the atria from the major arteries, producing the dicrotic notch in the ECG and closing the two semilunar valves. The second heart sound, S 2 or dub, occurs when the semilunar valves close. When the pressure falls below that of the atria, blood moves from the atria into the ventricles, opening the atrioventricular valves and marking one complete heart cycle. The valves prevent backflow of blood. Failure of the valves to operate properly produces turbulent blood flow within the heart; the resulting heart murmur can often be heard with a stethoscope.

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