When it comes to keeping your heart healthy, you may not be aware of the important role the atrioventricular node plays. The atrioventricular node, or AV node, is a small area of specialized cardiac tissue located in the wall between the right atrium and right ventricle of the heart. This small but mighty bundle of cells serves as an electrical relay station for the heart and acts as a back-up plan to keep your heart beating correctly.
The AV node is responsible for passing electrical signals throughout your heart muscle to coordinate contractions and keep your heartbeat in rhythm. It’s also responsible for controlling the rate of your heartbeat by either speeding it up or slowing it down depending on what activities you’re doing. When you exercise, your body sends a signal to the AV node telling it to speed up your heart rate in order to meet the increased demand for oxygenated blood. Similarly, when you rest, the AV node will slow your heart rate back down again.
In addition to controlling your heartbeat rate, the AV node also acts as a failsafe against potentially deadly arrhythmias—irregular or rapid heartbeat patterns that can occur due to damage in other parts of the heart muscle or even an electrolyte imbalance. Thanks to its unique structure and position within your cardiovascular system, it can detect these abnormal rhythms and send out signals that override them so that your heartbeat returns to its normal pattern.
Overall, without a functioning AV node you wouldn’t be able to rely on just one part of your cardiovascular system—the other parts would have to work harder than normal in order to keep up with demand. Thankfully, this small but important bundle of cells is reliable and resilient enough that we rarely have any problems with it—but if something were ever to go wrong with it (such as damage from a heart attack), then doctors can use pacemakers or defibrillators in order to restore its functionality.
You can learn more about the AV node, it’s function and roles, and how to treat issues in our American Heart Association Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support or Pediatric Advanced Life Support courses.