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Author Selina Jarvis is a research nurse and former Mary Seacole development scholar at Kingston and St George's University of London and Kings Health Partners (Guys and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation trust); Selva Saman is consultant, Margate Health Consortium, Margate Netcare Hospital, Margate, South Africa. The heart is a complex organ that pumps blood through the body with an intricate system of muscle layers, chambers, valves and nodes. It has its own circulation system and receives electric impulses that make it contract and relax, which triggers a sequence of events forming the cardiac cycle. A solid and methodical understanding of how the heart works is key to understanding what can go wrong with it. This first article in a two-part series covers anatomy and physiology, and the second part discusses pathophysiology.Citation Jarvis S, Saman S (2018) Cardiac system 1: anatomy and physiology.