In human embryos the heart begins to beat at about 22-23 days, with blood flow beginning in the 4th week. The heart is therefore one of the earliest differentiating and functioning organs.
The heart begins very early in mesoderm within the trilaminar embryonic disc. The heart forms initially in the embryonic disc as a simple paired tube inside the forming pericardial cavity, which when the disc folds, gets carried into the correct anatomical position in the chest cavity.
A key aspect of heart development is the septation of the heart into separate chambers. As the embryonic/fetal circulation is different to the neonatal circulation (lung/pulmonary activation), several defects of heart septation may only become apparent on this transition. One septal "defect" occurs in us all, the foramen ovale (between the 2 atria) which in general closes in the neonate over time.
Embryonic Heart Rate (EHR), early in development the heart starts to spontaneously beat and a recent study by Wisser and Dirschedl in dated human embryos showed an increase up to 63 postmenstrual days or 22 mm greatest length. Thereafter a steady decrease of EHR was noted. Maximal EHR is reached when morphological development of the embryonic heart is completed.