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“Precordium” is the name given to the surface of the chest and part of the abdomen above the belly button, roughly corresponding to the lower thorax and upper epigastric region of the human body. It is an area of particular interest to a physician conducting an external examination of the heart. The precordium and the ribs work together to offer some protection to the heart, but the area still is an area of vulnerability in humans.
The thorax extends from the neck to the diaphragm in the human body. The epigastric region extends from about the diaphragm to a line extending across the top of the hip bones. The precordium includes just the surface of the body in this area, while the epigastric region and thorax include the corresponding internal parts of the body.
An external medical examination of the heart includes a visual examination by a physician, palpation, and auscultation, or listening with a stethoscope. A visual exam looks for any sign of the heart beat. Palpation involves pressing on the chest to feel for the heart beat and to try to determine whether it is regular or abnormal in anyway. The chest can also be tapped so the resulting sound can be interpreted by a physician.
Precordium auscultation is a common part of any physical exam. It helps the physician get a basic understanding of the patient’s heart. The rhythm of the heart also can be determined, and the physician can hear heart murmurs and other problems with the heart valves.
Another part of a physical exam involving the precordium is an electrocardiograph (ECG), a test in which anywhere from three to 12 leads are attached to the precordium to pick up the electrical activity of the heart. The electrical activity is then represented graphically so it can be interpreted by a physician. This is a good tool for diagnosing cardiac problems.
When a person encounters a sudden cardiac problem, a procedure called the precordial thump can be used. This is a sharp blow to the chest that is usually administered if a person is in cardiac arrest. This procedure has limited success, and clinical testing has shown mixed and limited results. Only trained medical personnel typically perform this procedure.
The precordium and the underlying ribs give the heart a great deal of protection, but a sharp blow to a particular spot can trigger cardiac arrest. This is called commotio cordis, and it is rare. Commotio cordis typically occurs in young, healthy athletes who get hit in the chest with a ball. This type of injury is non-penetrating and looks harmless but can cause death.