What is the Chordae Tendineae?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The chordae tendineae are two tendons in the heart that contribute to the complex series of processes that happen with every cycle within the organ. These tendons are responsible for closing the valves that separate the ventricles from the atria to prevent the backflow of blood, ensuring that the blood is pushed through the pulmonary and aortic valves to circulate through the lungs and the body, respectively. Also known as the “heart strings,” these structures attach to the papillary muscles, which work to control valve movement, and to the tricuspid and mitral or bicuspid valves of the heart.

The chordae tendinae keep blood from flowing back into the atria after passing into the ventricles.
The chordae tendinae keep blood from flowing back into the atria after passing into the ventricles.

When the blood flows from the atria to the ventricles, a pressure differential is created that makes the blood want to push back into the atria. The pressure can be strong enough to force the flaps on the tricuspid and bicuspic valves to open, which is where the chordae tendineae come in. The heart strings tense up to keep the valves in position, leaving the blood with only one way to go: up into the aorta and pulmonary artery during ventricular systole, the period when the ventricles of the heart contract.

Surgery on the chordae tendineae requires an open-heart procedure with cardiopulmonary bypass.
Surgery on the chordae tendineae requires an open-heart procedure with cardiopulmonary bypass.

The processes involved in every heartbeat are carefully timed and entirely automatic, with the heart going through a cycle of contractions to push blood around the body, moving it through the lungs so that it will be oxygenated, and pushing the oxygenated blood into the aorta so that it can circulate through the body, bringing oxygen to the cells. The distinctive thump of the pulse is the result of ventricular systole, in which a contraction of the ventricles is used to build up pressure that forces the blood into the valves which exit the heart.

Sometimes, damage occurs to the valves as a result of disease processes in the heart. In this case, the heart valve may need to be repaired or replaced in a surgical procedure to address issues such as blood leakage which impair the function of the heart. The tendons themselves can also experience damage, usually in the form of rupture. Ruptures can be life threatening, and require immediate intervention.

In surgical procedures involving the valves or chordae tendineae, the patient must be put on cardiopulmonary bypass, with a heart-lung machine doing the work for the heart so that the surgeon can work on a still, mostly bloodless heart. The development of cardiopulmonary bypass allowed surgeons to perform procedures that would have been unthinkable before, when surgeons had to struggle to work with an actively beating heart.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


The human body and the function of our organs never cease to amaze me.

In the past, I learned about the major arteries which deliver and remove blood from the heart in my biology classes. Since I'm not a med student and the anatomy I learned is very basic, I never learned about chordae tendineae. But from what I understand, the chordae tendineae are as important as an other part of the heart. Just imagine, without the cordae tendineae, our heart couldn't pump blood to the rest of the body.


I looked this up because one of the fireman in my town's fire department passed away recently. The article this morning in the paper said that he died from chordea tendineae rupture. Doctors think that while he was fighting the fire, he overworked himself and tore his heart tendons. He collapsed in the burning building and the other fireman close to him pulled him out.

They rushed him to the hospital but weren't able to save him. He was still very young, in his thirties. He was married to my best friend's cousin and has a two year old daughter. It's just so sad.

I never knew that such heart problems can happen to young people. It's unfortunate we lost a great fireman because of it.

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