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Glossary of Heart Terms

The HeartIn reading about heart disease and its symptoms, you may come across a number of unfamiliar terms. This glossary, adapted from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health, can help you decipher some of them. For more information, read about "The Heart & Cardiovascular System" "Coronary Heart Disease" "Cholesterol" "Hypertension: High Blood Pressure." For additional questions, of course, ask your doctor.

Aneurysms

Small blister-like outpouchings of blood vessel walls. They can rupture, causing bleeding. (Read about "Aneurysms")

Angina

Angina pectoris or angina is a recurring pain or discomfort in the chest. It happens when some part of the heart does not receive enough blood. It can feel like a heaviness, a burning sensation, a discomfort in the left arm or jaw. (Read about "Angina")

Angiography

A procedure to x-ray blood vessels. Dye is injected into the vessel using a catheter or small tube. The blood vessels can be seen because the dye shows up in the x-ray pictures. Can be used to identify blockages and other problems interfering with the flow of blood, for example in the legs, heart, or brain. (Read about "X-rays" "Vascular System: Arteries and Veins" "Cardiovascular Tests")

Angioplasty

A procedure to open clogged arteries. A catheter, positioned in the narrowed coronary artery, has a tiny balloon or other device at its tip. The device is used to stretch or break open the narrowing and improve the passage for blood flow. The catheter is then removed. (Read about "Angioplasty")

Arrhythmia

Arrhythmia or dysrhythmia is a change in the normal heartbeat. (Read about "Arrhythmia")

Arteriography

Coronary angiography (or arteriography) is a test used to explore the coronary arteries. A fine tube (catheter) is put into an artery of an arm or leg and passed through the tube into the arteries of the heart. The heart and blood vessels are then filmed while the heart pumps. The picture that is seen, called an angiogram or arteriogram, will show problems such as a blockage caused by heart disease. (Read about "Coronary Heart Disease" also read about other "Cardiovascular Tests")

Arteriosclerosis

General term for the thickening and the hardening of arteries. Its development is accelerated by high blood pressure. (Read about "Arteriosclerosis & Atherosclerosis" "Hypertension: High Blood Pressure")

Artery

Vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the body. The major arteries of the heart are called the coronary arteries. (Read about "The Heart & Cardiovascular System" "Vascular System: Arteries and Veins")

Atherosclerosis

A type of arteriosclerosis in which cholesterol, fat, and other substances in the blood build up in the walls of arteries. As the process continues, the arteries to the heart may narrow, cutting down the flow of oxygen-rich blood and nutrients to the heart. Atherosclerosis is accelerated by high blood pressure. (Read about "Arteriosclerosis & Atherosclerosis" also read about "Hypertension: High Blood Pressure")

Atrial fibrillation

Condition in which the two small upper chambers of the heart, the atria, quiver instead of beating effectively. Although atrial fibrillation is not in itself considered life-threatening, people with it are at an increased risk for blood clots and stroke. (Read about "Arrhythmia" "Stroke")

Automatic implantable defibrillator

A device used to correct serious ventricular arrhythmias that can lead to sudden death. The defibrillator is surgically placed inside the patient's chest. There, it monitors the heart's rhythm and quickly identifies serious arrhythmias. With an electrical shock, it immediately disrupts a deadly arrhythmia. (Read about "Cardiac Arrest" "Arrhythmia")

Balloon angioplasty

A procedure to open clogged arteries. A catheter, positioned in the narrowed coronary artery, has a tiny balloon at its tip. The balloon is inflated and deflated to stretch or break open the narrowing and improve the passage for blood flow. The balloon-tipped catheter is then removed. (Read about "Angioplasty")

Blood pressure

Blood pressure is the amount of force exerted by the blood against the walls of the arteries. Usually, blood pressure is expressed in two numbers, such as 120/80, and is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). (Read about "Hypertension: High Blood Pressure")

Body mass index (BMI)

A measure of weight relative to height to determine if a person is overweight. (Read about "BMI")

Bradycardia

A slower than normal heartbeat. (Read about "Arrhythmia")

Bypass Surgery

In a coronary artery bypass operation, a blood vessel, usually taken from the leg or chest, is grafted onto the blocked artery, bypassing the blocked area. If more than one artery is blocked, a bypass can be done on each. The blood can then go around the obstruction to supply the heart with enough blood to relieve chest pain. (Read about "Coronary Bypass Surgery")

Cardiovascular diseases

Diseases of the heart and blood vessel system, such as coronary heart disease, heart attack, high blood pressure, stroke, angina (chest pain), and rheumatic heart disease. (Read about "The Heart & Cardiovascular System" "Coronary Heart Disease" "Heart Attack" "Hypertension: High Blood Pressure" "Stroke" "Angina")

Cardioversion

A procedure that rapidly restores a person's heart rate to a normal rhythm by delivering a shock of electricity directly to the heart. Can be used in the treatment of arrhythmia. (Read about "Arrhythmia")

Catheterization

Cardiac catheterization is a test used to explore the coronary arteries, using a fine tube (catheter) that's put into an artery or vein of an arm or leg and passed into the arteries of the heart. Can be used in the diagnosis of heart disease. (Read about "Cardiovascular Tests" "Coronary Heart Disease")

Cerebrovascular diseases

Diseases of the brain and its main blood vessels. In a stroke, for example, the loss of blood flow results in sudden loss of function of part of the brain. Stroke may be caused by a clot (thrombosis) or rupture (hemorrhage) of a blood vessel to the brain. (Read about "The Brain" "Stroke")

Cholesterol

A waxy substance produced by the body and taken in with food. The body needs cholesterol for functions such as making hormones. When too much cholesterol circulates in the blood, it leads to atherosclerosis and an increased risk of heart disease. Blood cholesterol refers to the cholesterol circulating in the bloodstream; dietary cholesterol is the cholesterol consumed in food. (Read about "Cholesterol" "Arteriosclerosis & Atherosclerosis")

Congestive heart failure (CHF)

Also called heart failure. A serious condition in which the heart is unable to pump enough blood to supply the body's needs. CHF occurs when excess fluid starts to leak into the lungs, causing breathing difficulty, fatigue and weakness, and sleeping problems. High blood pressure is the number one risk factor for CHF.

(Read about "Congestive Heart Failure")

Coronary heart disease (CHD)

The most common form of heart disease. This type of heart disease is caused by a narrowing of the coronary arteries that feed the heart, which results in not enough oxygen-carrying blood reaching the heart. (Read about "Coronary Heart Disease")

Diastolic blood pressure

The second or bottom number in a blood pressure reading. Diastolic blood pressure is the minimum pressure that remains within the artery when the heart is at rest. (Read about "Hypertension: High Blood Pressure")

Echocardiogram

This test uses sound waves to create a picture of the heart. The picture is more detailed than an x-ray image. (Read about "X-rays") This test can be used in the diagnosis of a number of heart conditions including valve disorders, cardiomyopathy and heart attack. (Read about "Coronary Heart Disease" "Cardiomyopathy" "The Heart and Its Valves" "Heart Attack" "Cardiovascular Tests")

Electrocardiogram

Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) is a graphic record of the electrical activity of the heart as it contracts and rests. It can be used in the diagnosis of a number of heart conditions including valve disorders, arrhythmias, and heart attack. (Read about "EKG - Electrocardiogram" "Coronary Heart Disease" "The Heart and Its Valves" "Arrhythmia" "Heart Attack" "Cardiovascular Tests")

Electron beam computed tomography (EBCT)

This test identifies and measures calcium buildup in and around the coronary arteries. Calcium build-ups can indicate an increased risk of heart disease. (Read about "Coronary Heart Disease" "Cardiovascular Tests" "CT Scan - Computerized Tomography")

Endocarditis

Bacterial endocarditis occurs when bacteria (Read about "Microorganisms") in the blood stream lands on abnormal heart valves or other damaged heart tissue. (Read about endocarditis in "The Heart and Its Valves")

Fat

One of the nutrients that supply calories to the body. The body needs only small amounts of fat. Foods contain different types of fat. Saturated fat, for example, is found in greatest amounts in food from animals, such as butter, cheese, milk, and cream, as well as meat and poultry skin. A few vegetable fats - coconut oil, cocoa butter, palm kernel oil, and palm oil - are also high in saturated fats. (Read about "Low Fat Food Tips")

Fibric Acid Derivatives

A type of cholesterol-lowering drug. (Read about "Cholesterol")

Generic drug

A medicine that has the same active drug as a trademarked brand-named version. Generic drugs usually cost less than their brand-name versions.

Heart disease

Diseases of the heart. These include conditions that affect the heart's valves and muscle. (Read about "The Heart & Cardiovascular System" "The Heart and Its Valves")

Heart failure

Also called congestive heart failure. A serious condition in which the heart is unable to pump enough blood to supply the body's needs. CHF occurs when excess fluid starts to leak into the lungs, causing breathing difficulty, fatigue and weakness, and sleeping problems. High blood pressure is the number one risk factor for CHF. (Read about "Congestive Heart Failure")

High blood pressure

When blood pressure stays above normal levels over a period of time. (Read about "Hypertension: High Blood Pressure")

Hypertension

The medical term for high blood pressure (blood pressure reading of 130/80 mm Hg or higher). (Read about "Hypertension: High Blood Pressure")

Ischemic

Refers to the state of not having enough blood flow.

Isolated systolic hypertension (ISH)

A condition in older adults in which only the systolic blood pressure is high. ISH is the most common form of high blood pressure for older Americans. (Read about "Hypertension: High Blood Pressure")

Lipids

Fatty substances, including cholesterol and triglycerides, that are present in blood and body tissues. (Read about "Cholesterol")

Lipoprotein Profile

A blood test that measures cholesterol numbers, usually done after a 9-12 hour fast. The test gives information about Total cholesterol; LDL (bad) cholesterol; HDL (good) cholesterol; and Triglycerides (Read about "Laboratory Testing" "Cholesterol")

Lipoproteins

Protein-coated packages that carry fat and cholesterol through the bloodstream. (Read about "Cholesterol")

Magnetic resonance imaging

MRI. This is a type of imaging involving the use of magnetic fields linked to a computer to create detailed pictures inside the body and head, and detect subtle changes in the tissues. (Read about "MRI - Magnetic Resonance Imaging") MRI can be used in the diagnosis of cancer (Find links to specific cancers in "Cancer: What It Is") as well as to identify damage from a heart attack, diagnose certain congenital heart defects, evaluate blood vessel problems, and aid in the evaluation of stroke damage. (Read about "Heart Attack" "Congenitial Heart Defects" "Stroke" "Cardiovascular Tests")

Marfan Syndrome

An inherited disease affecting the bones, joints, heart and blood vessels. (Read about "Marfan Syndrome")

Mitral Valve Prolapse

The mitral valve is the only valve with just two flaps. It separates the left atrium and the left ventricle. Mitral Valve Prolapse (MVP) occurs when one or both of the flaps get enlarged. The valve then doesn't close correctly and some blood leaks backwards. (Read about MVP in "The Heart and Its Valves")

mm Hg

Abbreviation for millimeters of mercury. It is used to express measures of blood pressure. It refers to the height to which the pressure in your blood vessels would push a column of mercury. (Read about "Hypertension: High Blood Pressure")

Murmur

Heart murmurs are sounds made as the blood moves through the heart. (Read about heart murmurs in "The Heart and Its Valves")

Myocardial Infarction

When the heart does not get enough blood flow and the heart muscle dies. Also known as a heart attack. (Read about "Heart Attack")

Nuclear Heart Scan

Nuclear heart scans (also called Radionuclide Imaging or Radionuclide Ventriculography) use radioactive tracers (such as technetium or thallium) to outline heart chambers and major blood vessels leading to and from the heart. A nuclear heart scan shows any damage to your heart muscle. It can be used in the diagnosis of heart disease, valve disorders, or heart failure. (Read about "Nuclear Medicine" "Coronary Heart Disease" " "The Heart and Its Valves" "Heart Attack" "Cardiovascular Tests")

Pacemaker

A pacemaker is a small battery-operated electronic device that is used to help the heart beat regularly. Can be used in the treatment of arrhythmia. (Read about "Arrhythmia")

Potassium

A mineral in the body's cells needed for maintaining fluid balance. Good sources of potassium are bananas and orange juice. Salt substitutes usually contain potassium. (Read about "Vitamins & Minerals")

PTCA - Percutaneous Transluminal Coronary Angioplasty

A procedure to open clogged arteries. A catheter, positioned in the narrowed coronary artery, has a tiny balloon at its tip. The balloon is inflated and deflated to stretch or break open the narrowing and improve the passage for blood flow. The balloon-tipped catheter is then removed. (Read about "Angioplasty" "Coronary Heart Disease" "Heart Attack")

Risk factors

Risk factors are traits or habits that make a person more likely to develop a disease. Some risk factors can be controlled, while others - such as age and gender - cannot be. Controllable risk factors for hypertension include cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, overweight or obesity (Read about "Obesity"), and physical inactivity. (Read about "Heart Risks")

Regurgitation, Valve

Regurgitation happens whenever a valve does not close correctly and the blood flows backward. It creates problems because the heart is now forced to work harder to move blood. (Read about valve regurgitation in "The Heart and Its Valves")

Salt

Common table salt or sodium chloride (NaCl). See also Sodium in this glossary (Read about "Sodium")

Saturated fat

A type of fat found in greatest amounts in food from animals, such as butter, cheese, milk, and cream, as well as meat and poultry skin. A few vegetable fats - coconut oil, cocoa butter, palm kernel oil, and palm oil - are also high in saturated fats. (Read about "Low Fat Food Tips")

Sinus rhythm

A normal heartbeat. (Read about "Arrhythmia")

Sodium

A mineral that can contribute to a high blood pressure in some people. It is found in baking soda, some antacids, and the food preservative MSG (monosodium glutamate) among other items. (Read about "Sodium")

Sphygmomanometer

This is a device used to measure blood pressure. By using a special cuff wrapped around your arm, the sounds of your blood rushing through an artery can be heard through a stethoscope. Two readings are given - one when your heart is contracting, one when it's at rest. (Read about "Hypertension: High Blood Pressure")

Statins

A type of cholesterol-lowering drug that keeps the liver from producing as much cholesterol and help the liver take more out of the blood stream. (Read about "Cholesterol")

Stenosis

Stenosis or narrowing can happen in heart disease to a valve when the valve is stiff and can't open all the way. The result is that the heart must work harder to move blood. (Read about Stenosis in "The Heart and Its Valves")

Stent

A stent is a wire mesh tube that's inserted into an artery to help keep it from closing up again. Stents can be used along with angioplasty to help keep an artery open following a heart attack or stroke. (Read about "Angioplasty" "Heart Attack" "Stroke")

Stress Test

Stress test or treadmill test is used to record the heartbeat during exercise. Can be used in the diagnosis of heart disease. (Read about "Stress Test" "Coronary Heart Disease" "Cardiovascular Tests")

Stroke

Sudden loss of function of part of the brain because of loss of blood flow. Stroke may be caused by a clot (thrombosis) or rupture (hemorrhage) of a blood vessel to the brain. (Read about "The Brain" "Stroke")

Systolic blood pressure

The first or top number in a blood pressure reading. The maximum pressure produced as the heart contracts and blood begins to flow. As systolic pressure rises, especially reaching or passing 130, so does the risk of getting heart disease. (Read about "Hypertension: High Blood Pressure")

Tachycardia

A rapid heartbeat. (Read about "Arrhythmia")

Tilt Table Test

A tilt table test can be used to diagnose patients with unexplained fainting spells or syncope. (Read about "Syncope/Fainting") During the test, heart rate, blood pressure or other measurements can be made while the patient lies on a table which is tilted so he or she can be monitored in different positions from lying down to standing upright. (Read about "Cardiovascular Tests")

Triglycerides

Lipids carried through the bloodstream to tissues. Most of the body's fat tissue is in the form of triglycerides, stored for use as energy. Triglycerides are obtained primarily from fat in foods. (Read about "Cholesterol")

Vascular

A term to describe blood vessels. (Read about "Vascular System: Arteries and Veins")

Veins

Vessels that carry blood from the body to the heart. (Read about "Vascular System: Arteries and Veins")

Used with permission of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health.

Related Information

    Congenital Heart Defects

    Glossary of Stroke Terms

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