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Heart and Vascular Center




Cardiovascular Glossary of Terms

We wanted to provide our patients & vistors a useful glossary of definitions to assist them in the navigation of their Cardiovascular Care.

Selected Anatomical Terms:

Aortic: Relating to the aorta, which is the major vessel that carries oxygenated blood from the heart to the body. Sometimes this term is used to denote the aortic valve, which is the valve that prevents back-flow of blood from the aorta into the left ventricle. (For example, "aortic stenosis.")

Artery: A vessel that carries blood away from the heart. Arteries generally carry oxygenated blood. In mammals, the exception is the pulmonary artery, which carries deoxygenated blood to the lungs.

Atrium: The chamber of the heart that collects blood returning from the rest of the body. In all vertebrates but fish, there are two atria, left and right. The right atrium collects deoxygenated blood from the body and passes it to the right ventricle. The left atrium collects oxygenated blood from the lungs and passes it to the left ventricle.

Coronary: Relating to the heart, or to one of the two arteries that originate in the aorta and supply blood directly to heart tissue.

Mitral Valve: Valve that separates the left atrium and the left ventricle and prevents back-flow from the ventricle to the atrium. Derived from "miter," which it resembles. (A miter is a tall, pointed hat with peaks in front and back which is worn by a bishop.)

Pulmonary: Relating to the lungs. Sometimes this term is used to denote the pulmonary valve, which is the valve that prevents back-flow of blood from the pulmonary artery into the right ventricle. (For example, "pulmonary regurgitation.").

Tricuspid Valve: Valve that separates the right atrium and the right ventricle and prevents back-flow from the ventricle to the atrium. It is composed of three leaf-like parts.

Vein: A vessel that carries blood toward the heart.

Ventricle: The chamber of the heart that is responsible for pumping blood out to the rest of the body. In mammals and birds, there are two ventricles, left and right. The right ventricle pumps deoxygenated blood to the lungs via the pulmonary artery; the left ventricle pumps oxygenated blood to the body via the aorta.

Brief Description of Selected Clinical Terms:

Anemia: A deficiency in the oxygen-carrying material of the blood.

Aneurysm: A pathological blood-filled dilatation of a blood vessel.

Angina pectoris: Chest pain caused by insufficient blood flow to the heart muscle.

Arrhythmia: Irregular heartbeat.

Atherosclerosis: An accumulation of fat-containing deposits on arterial walls.

Bradycardia: Excessively slow heartbeat.

Cyanosis: A condition in which a person's skin is discolored to a bluish hue because of inadequate oxygenation of the blood.

Diastole: Normal period of relaxation and dilatation of the heart cavities.

Dilatation: the condition of being abnormally dilated or enlarged.

Dyspnea: Difficulty in breathing.

Cardiomyopathy: This is the general term for diseases of the heart muscle. The most common of these diseases is the dilated cardiomyopathy in which the disease weakens the heart muscle and causes left ventricular dilation leading to increased diastolic pressure and volume.

Hypertension: A condition in which a person's blood pressure is abnormally high. For normal adults, the pressure should be less than 130 mmHg systolic and less than 85 mmHg diastolic. Pressures above 140/90 indicate a mild form of hypertension; above 180/110 is considered severe.

Insufficiency: Describes a condition in which a valve is not able to prevent back-flow of blood. The resulting back-flow is termed a regurgitation.

Ischemia: Localized loss of blood supply due to a mechanical obstruction.

Prolapse: Floppy valve, associated with regurgitation.

Regurgitation: Back-flow of blood through an insufficient valve. (For example, mitral valve regurgitation.).

Stenosis: Constriction of a passage. Used typically when there is a narrowing of a valve opening (for example, mitral valve stenosis) or of a blood vessel.

Syncope: A brief loss of consciousness caused by temporary lack of oxygenated blood.

Systole: Period of contraction of the heart during which blood is ejected from the ventricles.

Tachycardia: Excessively rapid heartbeat.

Angina: Chest pain due to an inadequate supply of oxygen to the heart muscle. The term angina is now used almost exclusively to denote angina pectoris, the medical term for chest pain or discomfort that is most often due to coronary heart disease. Stable angina refers to episodes of chest discomfort that are usually predictable, and which occur on exertion or under mental or emotional stress. Unstable angina refers to episodes of chest discomfort that are unpredictable and usually occur while at rest.

Angioplasty: A procedure with a balloon-tipped catheter to enlarge a narrowing in a coronary artery. (Also known as PCTA.)

Antihypertensive: 1. Counteracting high blood pressure. 2. An agent that reduces high blood pressure.

Antithrombotic: An agent used to prevent or interfere with the formation of a thrombus (a blood clot in a blood vessel or within the heart

Blood clot: A semi-solidified mass of blood, either in or out of the body.

Blood pressure: The pressure of the blood on the walls of the arteries, produced primarily by contraction of the heart muscle. Its measurement is recorded as two numbers: the first (systolic pressure) is measured after the heart contracts and is highest; the second (diastolic pressure) is measured before the heart contracts and is lowest.

Body mass index (BMI): An index for relating a person's body weight to his or her height. The body mass index (BMI) is a person's weight in kilograms (kg) divided by the person's height in meters (m) squared.

Cardiomyopathy: A general diagnostic term for disease of the heart muscle (myocardium).

Cardiovascular: Pertaining to the heart and blood vessels.

Carotid endarterectomy: A surgical procedure designed to clean out material blocking the carotid artery, a major artery in the neck that supplies blood to the brain. The aim of the procedure is to restore normal blood flow to the brain, thereby preventing a stroke.

Cerebrovascular: Pertaining to the blood vessels of the cerebrum, or brain.

Cholesterol (also known as total cholesterol): A fatlike substance that is a building block of the outer layer of cells (cell membranes). It is essential to the formation of bile acids, cell membranes, vitamin D and certain hormones. Cholesterol is not dissolved in the blood, but is transported in the bloodstream as water-soluble molecules known as lipoproteins. The lipoproteins are characterized by their density: high density lipoprotein (HDL) and low density lipoprotein (LDL).

Congestive heart failure: Inability of the heart to pump blood with normal efficiency. When this happens, the heart is unable to supply enough blood to the body's other organs such as the brain, liver and kidneys. Symptoms can include shortness of breath, pooling of fluid in the legs and feet, swelling and enlargement of the heart.

Coronary artery bypass: A surgical procedure whereby a new route is created around plaque within a coronary artery, using part of a vein as a graft. The procedure permits increased blood flow to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the heart muscle.

Coronary heart disease (CHD): A condition that begins when hard cholesterol substances (plaques) are deposited within a coronary artery. The plaques in the coronary arteries can rupture and cause the formation of a tiny clot, which can obstruct the flow of blood to the heart muscle, producing symptoms and signs of CHD that may include chest pain (angina), heart attack or sudden death due to a fatal disturbance of the heart rhythm. Also known as coronary artery disease (CAD).

Diastolic pressure: The minimum blood pressure, measured before the heart contracts. Usually the second number recorded in a blood pressure reading.

Electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG): A recording of the electrical activity of the heart. It is a simple, non-invasive procedure whereby electrodes are placed on the skin of the chest and connected to a machine that, when turned on, measures electrical activity all over around the heart. An example of its clinical use is in the initial diagnosis of a heart attack, which is usually made by a combination of clinical symptoms and characteristic EKG changes; the EKG can detect areas of muscle ischemia (muscle deprived of oxygen) and/or dead tissue in the heart.

Gastrointestinal (GI) bleed: An occurrence of bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract, which refers to the stomach and intestines.

Heart attack: Death of the heart muscle due to the loss of blood supply, usually caused by a complete blockage of a coronary artery, one of the arteries that supplies blood to the heart muscle. Death of the heart muscle, in turn, causes chest pain and electrical instability of the heart muscle tissue. Also known as myocardial infarction (MI).

Hemorrhagic stroke: Rupture of a blood vessel in or near the brain. This type of stroke accounts for 20% of all strokes that occur. There are two types of hemorrhagic stroke: subarachnoid hemorrhage, which occurs when a blood vessel on the surface of the brain ruptures and bleeds into the space between the brain and skull; and intracerebral hemorrhage, which occurs when a blood vessel bleeds into the cerebrum, the main portion of the brain.

High blood pressure: A repeatedly elevated blood pressure exceeding 140 over 90 mmHg - a systolic pressure above 140 with a diastolic pressure above 90. Also known as hypertension.

High density lipoprotein (HDL): A fat-like substance that transports cholesterol from the tissues of the body to the liver so it can be excreted in the bile. HDL is the so-called "good cholesterol"; the higher the HDL cholesterol level, the lower the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD).

Low density lipoprotein (LDL): A fat-like substance that transports cholesterol from the liver to the tissues of the body. LDL is the so-called "bad" cholesterol; elevated LDL levels are associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease (CHD).

Myocardial infarction (MI): The medical term for heart attack. It refers to changes that occur in the heart muscle (myocardium) due to the sudden deprivation of circulating blood. The main change is necrosis (death) of myocardial tissue.

Obesity: The state of being well above one's normal weight. Traditionally defined as being more than 20% above one's ideal weight (based on a person's height, age, sex and build), obesity has been more precisely defined by the National Institutes of Health as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or above. Obesity is a significant contributor to and increases the risk of a number of diseases including diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack and congestive heart failure.

Platelet Inhibitor: An agent/therapy which prevents or interferes with the formation of blood clots in blood vessels.

Polyunsaturated fat: A fat containing polyunsaturated (a term used to denote more than one unsaturated bond - that is, more than one place where hydrogen can be added to the

molecule) fatty acids, molecules derived from animal and vegetable fats and oils. Unlike saturated fats, polyunsaturated fats are considered beneficial in that they lower cholesterol

Risk factor: Something that increases a person's chances of developing a disease.

Stress: Forces from the outside world impinging on the individual. Stress releases powerful neurochemicals and hormones that prepare the individual for action. If no action is taken, the stress response can lead to health problems such as depression, high blood pressure or heart attack.

Stress test: Any of various tests that assess cardiovascular health and function after application of a stress to the heart, usually exercise but sometimes others such as atrial pacing (regulation of the heartbeat by means of an electrode inserted in the atrium of the heart) or specific drugs. In an exercise cardiac stress test (ECST), the patient exercises on a treadmill according to a standardized protocol, with progressive increases in the speed and elevation of the treadmill (typically changing at three-minute intervals). During the ECST, the patient's electrocardiogram (EKG), heart rate, heart rhythm, and blood pressure are continuously monitored. If a coronary arterial blockage results in decreased blood flow to a part of the heart during exercise, certain changes may be observed in the EKG, as well as in the response of the heart rate and blood pressure.

Stroke: The sudden death of some brain cells due to a lack of oxygen when the blood flow to the brain is impaired by blockage (ischemic stroke) or rupture of an artery to the brain (hemorrhagic stroke). A medical emergency, stroke is also called a cerebrovascular accident (CVA). Stroke symptoms depend on the area of the brain affected. The most common symptom is weakness or paralysis of one side of the body, with partial or complete loss of voluntary movement or sensation in a leg or arm; other symptoms can include speech problems, confusion, weak facial muscles, numbness or tingling. A stroke involving the base of the brain can affect balance, vision, swallowing and breathing, and may even cause unconsciousness.

Systolic pressure: The maximum blood pressure, measured after the heart contracts. Usually the first number recorded in a blood pressure reading.

Transient ischemic attack (TIA): A neurological event with the signs and symptoms of a stroke, but which go away within a short period of time. Also known as a mini-stroke, a TIA is due to a temporary lack of adequate blood and oxygen (ischemia) to the brain. This is often caused by the narrowing (or, less often, ulceration) of the carotid arteries (the major arteries in the neck that supply blood to the brain). TIAs typically last from 2 to 30 minutes and can produce problems with vision, dizziness, weakness or trouble speaking. If not treated, a TIA carries a high risk of having a major stroke in the near future; people who have a TIA have a 25% risk of stroke or other serious complication within 90 days.

Trans fat: An unhealthy substance, also known as trans fatty acid, made through the chemical process of hydrogenation of oils. Hydrogenation solidifies liquid oils and increases the shelf life and the flavor stability of oils and foods that contain them. Trans fats drive up levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol, which increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Triglyceride: The major form of fat. A triglyceride consists of three molecules of fatty acid combined with a molecule of the alcohol glycerol. Triglycerides serve as the backbone of many types of lipids (fats). Triglycerides come from foods and are also produced by the body. Triglyceride levels do not provide clinically significant information about the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) beyond that provided by levels of HDL and LDL cholesterol.