AQA A Level Biology

Revision Notes

6.1.14 Calculating Cardiac Output

Calculating Cardiac Output

  • Cardiac output (CO) is the term used to describe the volume of blood that is pumped by the heart (the left and right ventricle) per unit of time
  • An average adult has a cardiac output of roughly 4.7 litres of blood per minute when at rest
  • Individuals who are fitter often have higher cardiac outputs due to having thicker and stronger ventricular muscles in their hearts
  • Cardiac output increases when an individual is exercising
    • This is so that the blood supply can match the increased metabolic demands of the cells
  • The CO of an individual can be calculated using their heart rate and stroke volume
  • Heart rate is the number of times a heart beats per minute
    • This can also be described as the number of cardiac cycles per minute
  • Stroke volume is the volume of blood pumped out of the left ventricle during one cardiac cycle

Stroke volume graph, downloadable AS & A Level Biology revision notesGraph showing the changes in the volume of the left ventricle within one cardiac cycle.

Calculating cardiac output

  • Cardiac output is found by multiplying the heart rate by the stroke volume:

Cardiac output = heart rate x stroke volume

  • The equation can be rearranged to find the heart rate and stroke volume if required
    • Heart rate = cardiac output ÷ stroke volume
    • Stroke volume = cardiac output ÷ heart rate

Worked Example

It took a woman 1 second to complete a single cardiac cycle. Their stroke volume was measured at 73cm3. Calculate their cardiac output, give your answer in dm3.

Step 1: Find the heart rate

1 cardiac cycle (atrial systole, ventricular systole and diastole) takes 1 second

To find the number of cardiac cycles completed in a minute, multiply by 60

60 x 1 = 60 bpm

Step 2: Insert relevant figures into the equation

Cardiac output = heart rate x stroke volume

Cardiac output = 60 x 73 = 4,380 cm3

CO = 4.38 dm3

Exam Tip

1 dm3 is equal to 1000 cm3. It can be useful to convert all the figures found in the question into the same units before starting your workout, that way you are less likely to make any mistakes!

Most cardiac cycle graphs show the changes in pressure in the left ventricle, left atrium and aorta. Remember that in order to work out the stroke volume you need to know the change in volume, not the change in pressure!


Author: Lára

Lára graduated from Oxford University in Biological Sciences and has now been a science tutor working in the UK for several years. Lára has a particular interest in the area of infectious disease and epidemiology, and enjoys creating original educational materials that develop confidence and facilitate learning.

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