Glossary of Terms
Common Heart and Vascular Terminology
~ A ~
Ablation: The removal or destruction of dead tissue.
Aneurysm: A sac formed by the bulging of a blood vessel wall or heart tissue. When aneurysms grow too large, they can rupture and the bleeding can be life threatening.
Angina: Discomfort or pressure, usually in the chest, caused by a temporarily inadequate blood supply to the heart muscle. Discomfort may also be felt in the neck, jaw or arms.
Angioplasty: An invasive procedure, during which a specially designed balloon catheter with a small balloon tip is guided to the point of narrowing in the artery. Once in place, the balloon is inflated to compress the fatty matter into the artery wall and stretch the artery open to increase blood flow to the heart.
Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme Inhibitors (ACE inhibitors): A group of drugs used to treat high blood pressure and heart failure.
Anticoagulant (also known as blood thinner): A medication that prevents blood from clotting; used for people at risk for stroke or blood clots.
Aorta: Large artery leaving the heart. All blood pumped out of the left ventricle travels through the aorta on its way to other parts of the body.
Aortic Insufficiency: Refers specifically to the aortic valve, which is the valve the blood passes through as it leaves the heart and enters the aorta. When blood leaks back through the valve it is known as aortic insufficiency. Small amounts of aortic insufficiency may be inconsequential, but larger amounts require repair or replacement of the aortic valve.
Aortic Valve: The last valve through which the blood passes before it enters the aorta or main blood vessel of the body. The valve’s role is to prevent blood from leaking back into the left ventricle from the aorta after it has been ejected from the heart.
Aortic Valve Repair: The last valve in the heart through which the blood travels prior to circulating in the body. When this valve is leaking or too tight, a surgeon may be able to repair the valve rather than replace it.
Aortic Valve Replacement: When the aortic valve is diseased, it can become either stenotic (too narrow) or insufficient (leaky). In such cases, the aortic valve may need to be replaced with either a prosthetic or human valve.
Arrhythmia: An irregular heartbeat.
Arteries: Blood vessels that carry blood away from the heart.
Atherectomy: This procedure is used to clean out clogged heart arteries. A catheter is inserted into the narrowed artery and a balloon is inflated, pushing the window in the catheter against the fatty matter clogging the vessel. A blade (cutter) within the cylinder rotates and shaves off any fat that protruded into the window. The shavings are caught in a chamber within the catheter and removed. This process is repeated as needed to allow better blood flow.
Atherosclerosis (also called hardening of the arteries): The process whereby abnormal deposits of lipids, cholesterol and plaque build up, leading to coronary artery disease and other cardiovascular problems.
Atria: The upper chambers of the heart (atrium refers to one chamber of the heart).
Atrial Fibrillation: An irregular heart rhythm in which many impulses begin and spread through the atria. The resulting rhythm is disorganized, rapid and irregular and the atria are not able to fully empty their contents into the ventricles.
Atrial Flutter: A regular heart rhythm in which many impulses begin and spread through the atria. The resulting rhythm is organized, but so rapid that the atria are not able to fully empty their contents into the ventricles.
Atrioventricular Node: A group of special cells located near the center of the heart that helps to regulate the heart rhythm.
Atrium: The top chamber of the heart. There are two atria — the left and the right, divided by a muscular wall, called the septum. The atrium contracts before the ventricle to allow optimal filling of the ventricle.
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~ B ~
Balloon Angioplasty: A procedure used to clean out clogged heart arteries. A specially designed balloon catheter with a small balloon tip is guided to the point of narrowing in the artery. Once in place, the balloon is inflated to compress the fatty matter into the artery wall and stretch the artery open to increase blood flow to the heart.
Beta-Blocker: A drug that slows heart rate, lowers blood pressure, controls angina and protects patients with prior heart attacks from future heart attacks.
Blood Pressure: The force exerted in the arteries by blood as it circulates. It is divided into systolic (when the heart contracts) and diastolic (when the heart is filling) pressures.
Body Mass Index (BMI): A number that reflects body weight adjusted for height.
Bradycardia: A slow heart rate.
Bypass Surgery: Either a vein from your leg or an artificial (man-made) graft is used to bypass the diseased artery. The graft is used to create a “detour” channel for blood flow around the blocked vessel.
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~ C ~
Capillaries: Tiny blood vessels connecting arteries to veins. These blood vessels carry oxygen and nutrients to individual cells throughout the body.
Cardiac Arrest: When the heart stops beating suddenly and respiration (breathing) and other body functions stop as a result.
Cardiac Catheterization: A heart procedure used to diagnose heart disease. During the procedure, a catheter (inserted into an artery in your arm or leg) is guided to your heart, contrast dye is injected and X-rays of the coronary arteries, heart chambers and valves are taken.
Cardiac Output: The amount of blood pumped by the heart each minute.
Cardiac Rehabilitation: A structured program of education and activity guided toward lifestyle modification, increasing functional capabilities and peer support.
Cardiac Resynchronization Therapy: Cardiac resynchronization therapy relies on electric leads to correct an arrhythmia commonly diagnosed in patients experiencing heart failure. The leads electrically stimulate heart muscle to synchronize the contractions of the heart’s two lower chambers, or ventricles. Only when the lower chambers beat in harmony can they contract with enough force to push blood carrying oxygen through the body.
Cardiologist: Doctor specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of heart disease.
Cardiomyopathy: An abnormal heart condition in which the heart is dilated (poor pumping power), restrictive (impaired ability of the heart to fill) and hypertrophic (enlarged heart).
Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR): A technique designed to temporarily circulate oxygenated blood through the body of a person whose heart has stopped. It involves assessing the airway; if necessary breathing for the person; determining if the person is without a pulse; and if necessary, applying pressure to the chest to circulate blood.
Cardiovascular: Relates to the heart and blood vessels.
Cardioversion: A procedure used to convert an irregular heart rhythm to a normal heart rhythm by applying electric shock or using certain medications.
Carotid Artery: A vessel that supplies the brain with oxygenated blood.
Carotid Artery Disease: A progressive disease that involves the buildup of fatty material and plaque in the carotid arteries; it can lead to a stroke.
Carotid Endarterectomy: Removal of the inner lining of the carotid artery that is clogged with atherosclerotic buildup.
Catheter: A slender, hollow, flexible tube.
Chest X-ray (chest film): A very small amount of radiation is used to produce an image of the structures of the chest (heart, lungs and bones) on film.
Cholesterol: A fatty substance made by the body and found in some foods. Cholesterol is deposited in the arteries in coronary artery disease.
Congenital Heart Defects: Heart defects present at birth.
Congestive Heart Failure (CHF or heart failure): A condition where the heart muscle weakens and can’t pump blood efficiently throughout the body.
Constrictive Pericarditis: The pericardium is the sac around the heart. In people with constrictive pericarditis, this sac becomes inflamed and scarred leading to shrinkage of the pericardium. This can prevent the heart from filling to its full extent.
Coronary Arteries: Network of blood vessels that branch off the aorta to supply the heart muscle with oxygen-rich blood. There are two main coronary arteries: the right and the left. The left splits into two arteries called the circumflex and the left anterior descending (LAD) arteries, thus, the heart is often considered to have three major coronary arteries.
Coronary Artery Bypass: A surgical procedure that bypasses a diseased clogged artery using a piece of vein or artery from another part of the body.
Coronary Artery Disease (atherosclerosis): A build-up of fatty material in the wall of the coronary artery that causes narrowing of the artery.
Coronary Spasm: Repeated contractions and dilations of the coronary arteries causing a lack of blood supply to the heart muscle. It may occur at rest and can even occur in people without significant coronary artery disease.
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~ D ~
Deep Vein Thrombosis: When a blood clot is present in the deep veins of the leg.
Defibrillator: A machine that is used to administer an electric shock to the heart in order to re-establish normal heart rhythm.
Diastolic Pressure: The pressure of the blood in the arteries when the heart is filling. It is the lower of two blood pressure measurements (for example, 120/80, where 80 is the diastolic pressure).
Dilatation: The increase in size of a blood vessel.
Dilated Cardiomyopathy: A disease of the myocardium (heart muscle) that causes the heart cavity to become stretched and enlarged, reducing the pumping capacity of the heart.
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~ E ~
Echocardiogram (echo): An imaging procedure that creates a moving picture outline of the heart’s valves and chambers using high-frequency sound waves that come from a hand held wand placed on your chest or passed down your throat. Echo is often combined with Doppler ultrasound and color Doppler to evaluate blood flow across the heart’s valves. Doppler senses the speed of sound and can pick up abnormal leakage or blockage of valves.
Electrocardiogram (ECG, EKG): The EKG records on graph paper the electrical activity of the heart using small electrode patches attached to the skin.
Electrophysiology: A study of the heart’s electrical system.
Electrophysiology (EP) Study: An EP study is a test that evaluates the electrical activity within your heart. This test is used to help your doctor find out the cause of your rhythm disturbance and the best treatment for you. During the test, your doctor may safely reproduce your abnormal heart rhythm and then give you medications to see which one controls it best.
Embolus: A blood clot that moves through the blood stream.
Endoscopic Vein Harvesting: Minimally invasive removal of a vein through a small incision with the use of a fiber optic camera.
Event Monitor: A small monitor is attached to electrodes on your chest. It is worn continuously for a period of time. If symptoms are felt, an event button can be depressed, and the heart’s rhythm is recorded and saved in the recorder. The rhythm can be saved and transmitted over the phone line.
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~ F ~
Fibrillation: Abnormally rapid, inefficient contractions of the atria or ventricles. Ventricular fibrillation is life-threatening.
Flutter: One form of rapid heartbeat.
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~ H ~
Heart Attack (myocardial infarction): Permanent damage to the heart muscle caused by a lack of blood supply to the heart for an extended time period. The severity of damage varies from normal or mild, to severe.
Heart Block: An arrhythmia. The electrical current is slowed between the atria and ventricles. In more severe cases, conduction is blocked completely and the atria and ventricles beat independently.
Heart Failure (congestive heart failure): A condition where the heart muscle weakens and cannot pump blood efficiently. Fluid accumulates in the lungs, hands, ankles, or other parts of the body.
Heart Lung Bypass Machine: A machine that oxygenates the blood and circulates it throughout the body during surgery.
Heart Surgery: Any surgery that involves the heart.
Heart Valves: There are four valves in the heart: the tricuspid and the mitral valves, which lie between the atria and ventricles, and the pulmonic and aortic valves, which lie between the ventricles and the blood vessels leaving the heart. The heart valves help to maintain one-way blood flow through the heart.
High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL): Lipoprotein particle in the blood. HDL is known as “good” cholesterol because it deposits cholesterol in the liver, where it is excreted by the body. High HDL is thought to protect against coronary artery disease.
Holter Monitor: A small recorder (monitor) is attached to electrodes on your chest. It records the heart’s rhythm continuously for 24-hours. After the monitor is removed, the heart’s beats are counted and analyzed by a technician with the aid of a computer. Your doctor can learn if you are having irregular heartbeats, what kind they are, how long they last, as well as what may cause them.
Hyperlipidemia: High levels of fat in the blood, such as cholesterol and triglycerides.
Hypertension: High blood pressure.
Hypotension: Low blood pressure.
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~ I ~
Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD): A surgically inserted electronic device that constantly monitors your heart rate and rhythm. When it detects a very fast, abnormal heart rhythm, it delivers electrical energy to the heart muscle to help the heart to beat in a normal rhythm again.
Infarction: Tissue death due to lack of oxygen-rich blood.
Interventional Cardiology: Branch of cardiology that deals specifically with the catheter based treatment of structural heart diseases.
Intra-aortic Balloon Pump Assist Device (IABP): A machine that can help the pumping function of the heart. It is usually inserted through an artery in the groin area and threaded backwards into the descending thoracic aorta in the chest. In this location the balloon inflates and deflates in synchrony with the heart to aid the blood pumping function of the heart in people with cardiac disease.
Intravascular: Inside a blood vessel.
Ischemia: Condition in which there is not enough oxygen-rich blood supplied to the heart muscle to meet the heart’s needs.
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~ L ~
Lead Extraction: A lead is a special wire that delivers energy from a pacemaker or implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) to the heart muscle. A lead extraction is the removal of one or more leads from inside the heart.
Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD): A mechanical device placed in people with end-stage heart disease whose hearts do not pump a sufficient amount of blood to keep the body healthy (heart failure). The device aids in the pumping function of the blood.
Lipid: Fat circulating in the blood.
Lipoprotein: A combination of fat and protein that transports lipids (fats) in the blood.
Lobectomy: Removal of a lobe of a lung. The right lung has three lobes and the left lung has two lobes.
Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL): A lipoprotein particle in the blood responsible for depositing cholesterol into the lining of the artery. Known as “bad” cholesterol because high LDL is linked to coronary artery disease.
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~ M ~
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): A test that produces high-quality still and moving pictures of the heart and large blood vessels. MRI uses large magnets and radio-frequency waves to produce pictures of the body’s internal structures. No X-ray exposure is involved. MRI acquires information about the heart as it is beating, creating moving images of the heart throughout its pumping cycle.
Mammary Artery (also called thoracic artery): Artery located in the chest wall and used for coronary artery bypass surgery. Most commonly kept intact at its origin and sewn to the coronary artery beyond the site of blockage. If the surgeon removes the mammary artery from its origin to use as a bypass graft, it is then called a “free” mammary artery bypass graft.
Maze Procedure: A surgical treatment for atrial fibrillation. The surgeon makes multiple full thickness burns in areas of the heart to direct the electrical impulse in one direction.
Minimally Invasive Heart Surgery: Minimally invasive heart surgery is a technique developed to reduce the trauma associated with open heart surgery. The smaller incision that is used may allow the patient to heal more rapidly and decrease the time to recovery and full activity. It also helps to reduce the pain and discomfort associated with heart surgery.
Mitral Insufficiency: A condition where blood in the left ventricle leaks back through the mitral valve into the left atrium and can back up into the lungs. The mitral valve normally opens to allow blood to flow into the left ventricle and then closes, preventing blood from backing up into the atrium during the ventricle’s contraction.
Mitral Stenosis: A condition where the mitral valve becomes narrowed or stenotic preventing the easy flow of blood from the left atrium into the left ventricle.
Mitral Valve: The valve that lies between the left atrium and left ventricle (main pumping chamber of the heart). This valve allows blood to flow from the left atrium into the left ventricle and then prevents the back flow of blood into the left atrium during ventricular contraction.
Murmur: Turbulent blood flow across a heart valve creating a “swishing” sound heard by a stethoscope.
Myocardial Infarction (Heart attack): Permanent damage to the heart muscle caused by a lack of blood supply to the heart for an extended time period. The severity of damage varies from normal, mild, to severe.
Myocardium: Heart muscle.
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~ N ~
Nuclear Scan: Nuclear imaging is a method of producing images by detecting radiation from different parts of the body after the administration of a radioactive tracer material.
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~ P ~
Pacemaker: A small electronic device is implanted under the skin and sends electrical impulses to the heart muscle to maintain a suitable heart rate and to prevent slow heart rates.
Palpitation: A fluttering sensation in the chest that is often related to a missed heart beat or rapid heartbeat.
Pericardium: The sac that surrounds the heart.
Peripheral Artery Disease: Circulatory problem in which narrowed arteries reduce blood flow to your limbs, most commonly in the arteries of the pelvis and leg.
Plaque: Deposits of fats, inflammatory cells, proteins and calcium material along the lining of arteries seen in atherosclerosis. The plaque builds up and narrows the artery.
Pneumonectomy: Surgical removal of either the left or right lung.
Pulmonary Edema: An abnormal swelling of tissue in the lungs due to fluid build-up.
Pulmonary Hypertension: High blood pressure of the pulmonary arteries.
Pulmonic Valve: The last valve through which the blood passes before it enters the pulmonary artery from the right ventricle.
Pulse Rate: The number of heartbeats per minute. The resting pulse rate for an average adult is between 60 and 80 beats per minute.
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~ R ~
Risk Factor (for heart disease): Traits people have that are linked to the development and progression of coronary artery disease. There are modifiable risk factors — related to lifestyle and may be changed or controlled — and non-modifiable risk factors — related to aging and genetics and cannot be changed.
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~ S ~
STEMI: ST Elevation Myocardial Infarction is the most dangerous type of heart attack involving a sudden blockage of one of the three coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart. Without blood, the heart muscle will die.
Stent: A small stainless steel mesh tube, inserted after angioplasty that acts as a scaffold to provide support inside the coronary artery.
Stress Echocardiogram (Stress Echo): A procedure that combines echocardiography with exercise to evaluate the heart’s function at rest and with exertion. Echocardiography is an imaging procedure that creates a picture of the heart’s movement, valves and chambers using high-frequency sound waves that come from a hand held wand placed on your chest. Echo is often combined with Doppler ultrasound and color Doppler to evaluate blood flow across the heart’s valves.
Stress Test: A test used to provide information about how the heart responds to stress. It usually involves walking on a treadmill or pedaling a stationary bike at increasing levels of difficulty, while the electrocardiogram, heart rate and blood pressure are monitored. If you are not able to do the activity, medications may be used to “stress” the heart.
Stroke: A sudden loss of brain function due to decreased blood flow to an area of the brain.
Systolic Pressure: The pressure of the blood in the arteries when the heart pumps. It is the higher of two blood pressure measurements (for example, 120/80, where 120 is the systolic pressure).
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~ T ~
Tachycardia: Rapid heartbeat — above 100 beats per minute.
Tilt Table Test: A test used to determine the cause of fainting spells. The test involves being tilted at different angles for a period of time. Heart rhythm, blood pressure, and other measurements are evaluated with changes in position.
Total Cholesterol: The total amount of cholesterol in the blood.
Trans-myocardial Revascularization (TMR): A procedure used in people with severe heart disease who are not ideal candidates solely for bypass surgery. Small holes are burned through the heart muscle with a laser. This results in the development of new blood vessels.
Triglyceride: A fat found in the blood. Most fat found in the diet and body is in the form of triglycerides.
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~ V ~
Valve: Structures that maintain the proper direction of blood flow. There are four valves in the heart: the tricuspid and the mitral valves that lie between the atria and ventricles, and the pulmonic and aortic valves that lie between the ventricles and the blood vessels leaving the heart.
Varicose Veins: Swollen, twisted, painful veins that have filled with an abnormal collection of blood.
Veins: Blood vessels that carry blood toward the heart.
Ventricles: The lower, pumping chambers of the heart. The heart has two ventricles — the right ventricle and left ventricle.
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