Atrioventricular Node: Definition, Function & Role

Instructor: Alyssa Campbell

Alyssa is an active RN and teaches Nursing and Leadership university courses. She also has a Doctorate in Nursing Practice and a Master's in Business Administration.

The atrioventricular node, also known as the AV node, plays a critical role in the electrical conduction of our heart. Read this lesson to learn more about where this special node is located and the important function it has.

Do We Have a Pulse?

Gus is the chef at his own restaurant, and normally spends long days ensuring the satisfaction of his customers. This morning he wakes up feeling especially tired and a little dizzy. Because he is committed to the success of his business, he is determined to get to work and make it through the day.

But before Gus even has a chance to walk into the kitchen, he passes out and drops to the floor. Fortunately, a fellow employee sees Gus collapse and rushes to his side. He checks Gus's pulse, a palpable throbbing that indicates a beating heart. The employee finds a weak radial pulse on the inside of Gus's wrist. Knowing that a normal pulse should be between 60-100 beats per minute, the employee immediately calls for emergency medical care, reporting a very slow pulse of 30.

Emergency medical personnel arrive and rush Gus straight to the hospital. He's evaluated by a physician who suspects heart block, meaning that his AV node is not able to properly send electrical signals, resulting in bradycardia, or a slow heart beat.

What Is the AV Node?

The atrioventricular node, also known as the AV node, is a very important part of the circulatory system. This node consists of a specific site of electrically charged cells responsible for the pulse and heart rate of the human body. The AV node received its name because of its location; it rests in between the right atrium and ventricle.

Location of the AV node

The doctor explains to Gus that the heart has four chambers, two on the top called atria and two on the bottom called ventricles. Specifically located on the bottom of the right atrium, the AV node sends an electrical signal to the lower ventricles, causing the muscle tissue to contract and circulate the blood. The AV node sends the signal for the ventricles to contract after a slight delay to allow the heart to fill with blood.

The Function of the AV Node

The doctor explains that because the AV node sends electrical messages that control the heart's ability to contract and circulate blood, a person can start to feel sick when there is a problem related to this node. Gus's pulse was confirmed to be bradycardic, or slow, upon arrival to the hospital, and he was assessed for other symptoms of bradycardia, some of which he experienced earlier that morning:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Confusion
  • Syncope, or passing out

Diagnosing AV Node Problems

Before Gus is officially diagnosed with heart block, when the electrical messages used to make the ventricles squeeze and pump are not transmitting through the AV node, he must first undergo a few diagnostic tests for confirmation.

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