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What is the Cardiac Muscle?

Niki Acker
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The cardiac muscle is the heart, responsible for pumping blood throughout the body. It is made up of cardiac muscle and is the only place in the body where such muscle is found. All the other muscles in the body are composed of either skeletal muscle or smooth muscle. The most muscular part of the heart is its middle layer, called the myocardium, which is mainly responsible for its contractions.

Cardiac muscle is unique because it is striated, like skeletal muscle, yet involuntary, like smooth muscle. Skeletal muscle controls the body's movement and is generally under conscious, or voluntary, control. The internal organs, on the other hand, with the exception of the heart, are made of smooth muscle, which works without conscious effort.

Striated muscle is arranged in protein filaments known as sarcomeres that are responsible for muscular contraction. Sarcomeres give muscles a striated, or striped, appearance. The striations in the cardiac muscle, unlike those in skeletal muscles, are branched, creating a more tenacious structure.

The cardiac muscle is very strong and resistant to fatigue, as it must work constantly throughout an organism's life. The average human heart contracts 70 times per minute to circulate blood through the body's blood vessels. The action potential, the electrochemical wave, responsible for the heartbeat comes from within the cardiac muscle itself, allowing the heart to continue to function even if the nerves enervating it are severed, as in the case of a heart transplant. The cardiac muscle is supplied by nerves, but the nervous system merely helps regulate the speed and strength of its contractions.

Unlike other muscles, cardiac muscle is nearly completely reliant on oxygen to function. While skeletal muscles can function anaerobically, using stored glycogen as a fuel source, the heart cannot to any significant degree. Therefore, damage and even death can occur very quickly whenever oxygen supply to the heart is blocked, such as during a heart attack.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Niki Acker
By Niki Acker , Writer
"In addition to her role as a The Health Board editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range of interesting and unusual topics to gather ideas for her own articles. A graduate of UCLA with a double major in Linguistics and Anthropology, Niki's diverse academic background and curiosity make her well-suited to create engaging content for WiseGeekreaders. "

Discussion Comments

By anon312760 — On Jan 08, 2013

What is the waste product of the cardiac muscle?

By anon273380 — On Jun 06, 2012

It is located in the heart.

By anon269587 — On May 18, 2012

Where can the Cardiac muscle be found?

By shell4life — On Apr 17, 2012

If you have high blood pressure for an extended period of time, you can stress your cardiac muscle out to the point of heart attack. It is strong and resistant to tiring out, but it can only take so much.

This is why doctors always insist that people with high blood pressure find a way to lower it. They either recommend losing weight, getting out of a stressful situation, or taking blood pressure medication.

I have high blood pressure, but since mine is caused by a kidney disease that restricts blood flow, my only option was medication. I take two kinds of blood pressure pills now, and I likely will have to continue taking them for the rest of my life. I don't mind, though, because I know that they are preserving the life of my heart.

By Oceana — On Apr 17, 2012

@OeKc05 – Usually, someone will inject the heart with something to make it stop beating, and they will put it on ice until it gets where it needs to be. It can survive on ice for a few hours, so if it has to be flown to another hospital, it will still have a good chance of working.

However, I recently read an article about a new method that lets the heart keep beating from the time it is removed until the time it is implanted. They have come up with a box that will pump blood through the heart continuously, making it feel right at home.

Experts seem to think that this will keep the heart healthier in transit and provide better outcomes. I have a condition that will likely cause me to need a heart transplant someday, and I hope they have the method perfected by then.

By OeKc05 — On Apr 16, 2012

I have seen a video of a heart being taken from a brain-dead patient before. It was pretty creepy how the heart kept beating after it was taken from the donor.

I wonder if it keeps beating because it can get oxygen from the surrounding air? Do surgeons implant it while it is still beating, or does it stop and have to be restarted? It looks like it would have a better chance of working in its new body if it had been steadily beating during the whole process.

By dill1971 — On Oct 24, 2010

@boathugger: It’s called action potential. The contractions of the cardiac muscle are triggered in a different way than the contraction of the skeletal muscle, which is caused by electrical impulses from nerve terminals located at the individual muscle fibers.

The heart cells do not have nerve terminals attached to them. To compensate for not having the nerve terminals, the heart cells have their own type of stimulus. They communicate directly with each other by passing electrical impulses to the neighbor cells. This enables the heart to be stimulated at just one location, with the electrical impulses passing on to the rest of the heart muscle which causes it to contract.

By BoatHugger — On Oct 24, 2010

What exactly makes the cardiac muscle contract?

Niki Acker

Niki Acker


"In addition to her role as a The Health Board editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range...
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