The epicardium is a layer of muscle located on the outside of the heart. A continuous piece of muscle, this tissue performs a protective role, helping hold the other muscles close together. The heart is responsible for pumping blood through the blood vessels, causing it to circulate throughout the body.
The heart is comprised completely of cardiac muscle and is found in all vertebrates. The heart must be functioning for the animal to live. The epicardium is considered to be an involuntary muscle. This means the muscle contracts and releases based on automated signals from the brain.
Several mechanical devices have been invented to mimic the function of the heart muscles. These artificial heart machines are used to keep the blood oxygenated and moving through the body during heart surgery, or in situations where the person has suffered catastrophic injuries. The machine requires significant power and puts a great deal of strain on the patient's body. As a result, it is only used in emergency situations.
The epicardium cannot be separated from the other heart muscles, but it can be stimulated by electronic pulses to change the rhythm of the heart. This type of device is usually implanted into the patient, and is used when the heart is unable to sustain a consistent rhythm or is prone to skipping a beat. The use of implants and other devices to sustain life grew significantly after success with pacemakers, which are used to control the muscular contractions of the epicardium muscles.
The most serious risk to the heart muscle is obesity. The buildup of fatty deposits on the heart muscles contributes directly to heart attacks, which are one of the leading causes of natural death among adults. A diet rich is fruits, vegetables, and whole grains significantly reduces the buildup of fat in the heart. Add a regular exercise routine to keep the heart muscle strong, and the risk is even lower.
Replacing the entire heart muscle is called a heart transplant, and is a very dangerous surgery, performed only when absolutely necessary. The heart must be donated from someone of similar blood type, height and weight who has passed away from a non-heart-related trauma. The list of people in need of a heart transplant exceeds the number of hearts available. People often pass away from heart disease or related complications while waiting for a suitable heart to become available.