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Pericardium – Structure & Function

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Surrounding the heart is a fibrous sac called the image descriptionpericardium (Gr., peri, around + kardia, heart), which performs several functions. Fluids within the sac lubricate the outer wall of the heart so it can beat without causing friction. It also holds the heart in place, forms a barrier against infections, and helps keeps the heart from overexpanding.

Unlabelled image of the anterior view of the pericardium
Labelled image of the anterior view of the pericardium
The pericardium surrounding the heart.
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A image descriptioncoronal section of the pericardium reveals that it is composed of two walls and a thin, intervening space. The outer wall is the thickest and consists of two tissue layers.

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A coronal section of the pericardium.

The external layer is formed by dense irregular connective tissue and is often called the image descriptionfibrous pericardium.

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Labelled image of the fibrous pericardium
The fibrous percardium.
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Under the fibrous pericardium is a thin layer of serous membrane known as the image descriptionparietal pericardium.

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Labelled image of the parietal pericardium
The parietal pericardium.
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At the roots of the major blood vessels, the parietal pericardium image descriptionreflects back over the surface of the heart.

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The parietal pericardium reflecting back over the surface of the heart.

This layer forms both the inner wall of the pericardium, which is called the image descriptionvisceral pericardium, and the outer layer of the heart wall, which is called the epicardium.

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Labelled image of the visceral pericardium
The visceral pericardium.
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Together, the parietal and visceral pericardial layers are also called theĀ serous pericardium.

Between the walls of the serous pericardium is the image descriptionpericardial cavity. This narrow space is normally filled with a few (10-50) millilitres of pericardial fluid, which is secreted by the serous membranes. The fluids reduce friction between membranes as they glide past one another during heartbeats.

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Labelled image of the pericardial cavity
The parietal cavity.
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Test yourself:

Coronal section of the pericardium: [image descriptionShow/image descriptionHide answers]

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Test yourself image of the pericardium with answers shown: Outer wall, inner wall, fibrous pericardium, parietal pericardium, visceral pericardium, pericardial cavity.
Review the coronal section of the pericardium and test yourself.
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