The contractile activity of the muscular walls of the heart propels blood throughout the body, delivering nutrients to and removing wastes from each organ. The heart also provides for the transport of hormones, neurotransmitters, and other messengers between various regions of the body. These transport functions are made possible by the rhythmic pumping action of the heart, which can be viewed simply as a hollow muscular pump provided with valves that moves blood "around in a circle continuously". The existence of the heart was already known by the Greeks, who gave it the name 'kardia', which nowadays still can be found in terms like cardiac en tachycardia. Aristotle thought that the heart was the centre of man and contained the soul. During the Roman times the word 'kardia' was modified to 'co~, which is still in clinical use, in words like 'cor pulmonale'. The old word 'herton' is also derived from cor and leads us via the medieval word 'heorte' to 'heart' in our language. The basis of the modern concepts of circulation were laid by Harvey in the seventeenth century, describing the function of the heart as pump of blood of the circulation; he also described the heart as composed of two ventricles.

Netherlands Heart Foundation
J.M.J. Lamers (Jos)
Erasmus University Rotterdam
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

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