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Heart Glossary

A procedure in which a physician destroys (ablates) very small, carefully selected portions of the heart that are causing tachycardia-very fast beating of the heart. Then the heart can beat more slowly and normal again.

Angina (Angina Pectoris)
Angina is the pain or discomfort in the chest that occurs when some part of the heart does not receive enough blood. It may feel like a pressing or squeezing pain in the chest under the breastbone, shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, or back. The most common trigger for angina is physical exertion. Other triggers could be emotional stress, extreme cold or heat,
alcohol consumption, and/or smoking. Rest and/or appropriate medication may relieve angina.

An x-ray of the arteries located on the surface of the heart (the coronary arteries). It helps the physician see if any of those arteries are blocked by fatty plaque.

A procedure to dissolve potentially deadly clots in a patient's coronary artery before the patient undergoes a balloon angioplasty.

Angioplasty is the mechanical widening of a narrowed or totally obstructed blood vessel (often caused by atherosclerosis), which now includes most vascular interventions.

The overall term arrhythmia is used to describe abnormal electrical activity in the heart. The heartbeat may be too fast, too slow, regular or irregular. Some arrhythmias may result in cardiac arrest and sudden death. Others may cause an unusual awareness of the heart beating or no symptom at all, but all have the potential to cause embolisms and/or strokes.

  • Fibrillation: Refers to the part of the heart which is contracting abnormally; may be either atrial or ventricular
  • Tachycardia: Term used when the heart beats faster than 100 times a minute
  • Bradycardia: Term used when the heart beats less than 60 times a minute

Atherosclerosis is a disease that develops over many years and is the result of plaque (cholesterol, fats and other cellular  debris) buildup within arterial walls and damage caused by high blood pressure, high cholesterol and/or smoking. As more plaque accumulates, the vessels become narrow and stiffen (harden). Symptoms may or may not be present (AKA: hardening of the arteries).

Biventricular Pacing
A new type of device designed to treat heart failure. It synchronizes the heart chambers so they pump together.

Body Mass Index (BMI)
Body Mass Index comes from a ratio between our body weight (pounds) and height (inches). It is an objective way of understanding our weight and how it fits into a healthy lifestyle. To use the table below, find your height on the left side and your weight at the top. Your BMI is where the two (height and weight) meet.

A procedure in which a burst of radiation is delivered within an artery to prevent it reclosing (restenosis) after an angioplasty with stenting.

Calcium Score
Your calcium score is the measurement of calcified plaque, if any, in the coronary arteries derived from detailed x-ray images taken with advanced CT Scan technology. It indicates the level of risk for coronary artery disease.

Cardiac Catheterization
A cardiac catheterization is a diagnostic procedure in which a catheter is placed through an incision into a large vein (usually a leg or arm) and threaded through the circulatory system to the heart.

Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) 
This is any abnormal condition that causes the heart and/or blood vessels to function improperly. In the United States, CVD is the leading cause of death.

The process of converting one heart rhythm or electrical pattern to another. This term usually used to describe a controlled application of an electrical shock to the chest wall in order to restore a normal cardiac rhythm.

Cholesterol is a waxy, soft, fat-like substance that is an important component of every cell in the human body. Our bodies produce cholesterol, but we also obtain it from foods that contain saturated fats (red meat, dairy products). Cholesterol that is not used or excreted contributes to arterial plaque. High blood cholesterol is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease and stroke.

Cholesterol is measured in milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL). It is recommended that everyone age 20 and older have a fasting “lipoprotein profile” every five years; it gives information about total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) high-density lipoprotein, and triglycerides. Blood cholesterol for adults is classified by levels.

Cholesterol Levels

  • Less than 200 mg/dL: Desired level that puts you at lower risk for coronary heart disease
  • 200 to 239 mg/dL: Borderline high
  • 240 mg/dL and above: High. A person with this level has more than twice the risk of coronary heart disease as someone whose cholesterol is below 2000 mg/dL

Congestive Heart Failure
Congestive Heart Failure is a term often used to describe heart failure, but congestion or the buildup of fluid is only one symptom of heart failure. Congestion is not a symptom that all heart failure patients experience.

Coronary Arteries
The coronary arteries branch from the aorta and provide oxygenated blood to the heart muscle. The four major arteries are:

  • Left main coronary artery
  • Circumflex coronary artery
  • Left anterior descending coronary artery
  • Right coronary artery

Any disease, such as atherosclerosis, within these vessels may cause serious or fatal complications.

Coronary Artery Bypass Graft
Open heart surgery in which a section of a blood vessel is “bridged” onto a coronary artery so that blood flow may go around a narrowed artery or blockage is called Coronary Artery Bypass Graft (AKA: CABG or “Cabbage”).

Directional Coronary Atherectomy (DCA)
A procedure that removes exceptionally hard (calcified) plaque that has built up on the walls of the arteries.

An echocardiogram is a study using high-frequency sound waves to picture or visualize the heart chambers, the thickness of the muscle wall, the heart valves and major blood vessels located near the heart. This is a non-invasive procedure.

A graphic record made by an electrocardiograph, an instrument that records the heart’s electrical activity is called an electrocardiogram (AKA: ECG or EKG).

Electrophysiology Study
A test that involves cardiac catherization, in which a catheter is inserted into a blood vessel and all the way to the heart. There, it can measure the hearts activity and electrical pathways.

Heart Attack
The death or damage to part of the heart muscle when the blood supply is severely reduced or stopped is a heart attack. It occurs when one or more of the coronary arteries are blocked, usually due to atherosclerosis (AKA: myocardial infarction, coronary attack, coronary thrombosis, coronary occlusion).

Heart Failure
When the heart is unable to pump blood through the body as well as it should, this is called heart failure. It does NOT mean the heart literally stops. Heart failure develops slowly over time, and can have a significant impact on a person’s ability to perform daily activities such as dressing, bathing, and walking. There are two main categories of heart failure, and within each category, symptoms may differ person to person.

  • Systolic heart failure happens when the heart’s ability to pump blood decreases. The heart cannot push enough blood into the circulatory system. This causes blood coming from the lungs to the heart to “back-up” and leak fluid into the lungs (pulmonary congestion).
  • Diastolic heart failure occurs when the heart has trouble relaxing or resting. The heart muscle becomes stiff and cannot fill with blood. This causes fluid to “back-up” most often in the feet, ankles, and legs and leads eventually to lung congestion.

High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL)
HDL circulates in the blood stream and takes cholesterol to the liver for excretion. It is the “good” cholesterol because it seems to lower the risk of heart attack and stroke. That means . . . the higher the better. You may raise your HDL by not smoking, losing excess weight and being more active.

HDL Cholesterol Levels:

  • Less than 40 mg/dL (men): Low. A major risk factor for coronary heart disease
  • Less than 50 mg/dL (women): Low. A major risk factor coronary heart disease
  • 60 mg/dL and above: Desirable. Is considered protective against heart disease

Hypertension (AKA: high blood pressure)
Normal blood pressure moves blood smoothly throughout the body inside the blood vessels. With increased blood pressure or hypertension, blood vessels become tight and constricted. This presses the blood on the vessel walls with greater force and causes arteries to thicken and stiffen, and the heart to work harder. This damage increases the risk of heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases such as aneurisms, eye problems and kidney disease. Because most folks never feel “sick” when their blood pressure is too high, hypertension is called the “Silent Killer.”

Implantable Cardiac Defibrillator (ICD)
Implanted into the chest, is a battery-powered device that monitors, and if necessary, corrects an irregular heart rhythm by sending electrical charges to the heart.

Intra-Aortic Balloon
A temporary inflatable device placed in the aorta to reduce the hearts workload and improve blood flow. It is used for short periods such as after a heart attack or before open-heart surgery.

Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL)
LDL circulates in the blood stream carrying the harmful cholesterol that ends up deposited in arterial walls. Commonly called the “bad” cholesterol, a high LDL means a higher risk of heart disease and stroke.

LDL Cholesterol Levels:

  • Less than 100 mg/dL: Optimal
  • 100-129 mg/dL: Near or above optimal
  • 130-159 mg/dL: Borderline high
  • 160-189 mg/dL: High
  • 190 mg/dL and above: Very high

Open Heart Surgery
For the surgeon to be able to get to your heart muscle, it was necessary to saw through your sternum (breastbone) and then spread the ribs apart. This is why you may be experiencing pain throughout your chest and shoulders. The surgeon either uses a vein from your leg or an artery from your chest wall to bypass blocked coronary arteries. One end of the bypass graft is sewn to the aorta and the other end to the coronary artery below the blockage. The blockage is not removed. Oxygen-rich blood is now able to flow through the bypass graft to your heart muscle. The surgeon closes the sternum by placing stainless steel wires around the breastbone in several places. These wires function as a cast and hold the sternum together while healing occurs over the next eight weeks. These wires are not removed. The skin is closed with suture material that is not visible and will dissolve over time.  Read the Open Heart Surgery Patient Education PDF. [link to pdf]

Implanted in the chest, an artificial pacemaker is a battery-powered device that monitors, and if necessary, corrects irregular heart rhythms by sending electrical charges to the heart.

Percutaneous Coronary Angioplasty
A procedure for the treatment of narrowing arteries. A balloon-tipped catheter is inserted into an artery, most commonly coronary arteries, to press plaque back against the vessel wall. This widens or unblocks the artery to restore blood flow.

An invasive procedure in which fluid is removed from the pericardium-a protective sac around the heart. The fluid may be removed by a needle, a catheter or as part of surgery.

Plaque is a yellow, waxy substance that lines the inside of arterial walls caused from a buildup of cholesterol, fats, and other cellular debris. It causes atherosclerosis.

Your pulse is the rhythmic movement caused by the beating heart and easily felt in superficial arteries. Use your first and second fingers to feel or palpate a pulse and count the beats for 60 seconds. Common pulse sites are:

  • Radial: The most common pulse site, found in the wrist directly under the thumb
  • Brachial: Detected inside the elbow on the “little finger side”
  • Femoral: Found inside the groin
  • Carotid: May be felt on both sides of the neck along the outer jaw-line
  • Apical: Not a pulse normally detected by touch, rather by sound when using a stethoscope between breastbone and left nipple.

Rotoblader (Rotational Coronary Atherectomy)
A tiny drill-like device used in a catheter based procedure called rotational coronary atherectomy to grind away plaque from an artery wall.

A procedure in which a wire mesh tube is inserted through a catheter and placed in an artery to hold it open. Stenting is usually performed right after a balloon angioplasty while the catheter is still in place.

A stroke is a medical emergency and condition that occurs when there is a lack of blood flow to the brain from a blood clot or bleeding in the brain from a broken blood vessel. Without a good blood supply, brain cells cannot get enough oxygen and begin to die. Symptoms include sudden weakness or numbness of the face, arms and/or legs (especially one side of the body), loss of speech, difficulty understanding speech, blindness or partial loss of vision in one eye, sudden and severe headache, dizziness or loss of balance, difficulty swallowing, and loss of consciousness.

Tilt Test
A test in which the patient is strapped to a table, which is then tilted. It is used to help determine the cause of unexplained fainting (syncope).

Transesophageal Echocardiogram
An ultrasound exam of the heart in which, a small flexible tube with an ultrasound probe (transducer) is passed into the esophagus (food tube) and stomach. The test shows a very clear picture of the hearts' chambers and valves.

Transient Ischemic Attacks
Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIA) are episodes of insufficient blood flow in the brain, usually associated with a partial blockage of a cerebral artery by plaque or embolus. Symptoms may include dizziness, weakness, numbness, visual disturbances or unconsciousness, but will vary with the location and degree of blockage. A TIA usually lasts a few minutes. (AKA: Mini strokes)

Transluminal Extraction Catheter (TEC)
A broad name for group of related procedures that removes exceptionally hard (calcified) plaque that has built up on the walls of the arteries.

Transthoracic Echocardiogram
An ultrasound exam of the heart which uses sound waves to make images of the heart muscle, the heart valves, and the blood flow through the heart. It does not directly show blockages within the coronary arteries.

Our bodies make triglycerides, and we get them from foods; they are the most common type of fat in the body, and a major source of energy. Many with heart disease or diabetes have high triglyceride levels. Normal levels vary by age and gender. A high triglyceride level with a low HDL and high LDL appears to speed up atherosclerosis.

Triglyceride Levels:

  • Less than 150 mg/dL: Normal
  • 150-199 mg/dL: Borderline high
  • 200-499 mg/dL: High
  • 500 mg/dL and above: Very high

Valve Replacement Or Repair
There are four heart valves that direct blood flow through the heart chambers and out to various parts of the body. The two valves that are more prone to disease/damage are the mitral valve and the aortic valve. Normally, the heart valves are smooth structures that open and close to regulate blood flow. Birth defects, infection, rheumatic fever, or scarlet fever can damage these valves. Two terms used when talking about poorly functioning valves are "stenosis" and "insufficiency." Stenosis describes when the valves are hard to open. Insufficiency describes when the valves do not close properly.

You may also contact the Ohio Department of Health at Off Site Icon or by calling 800-342-0553.

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