Coming to terms

Here is a list of 36 commonly used heart-related words and their meanings

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Health professionals use so many heart-related words and abbreviations that most of the times we are left wondering about its meaning. In fact, some of us too use them with or without knowing what they really mean. Here a guide to help you understand some commonly used terms related to the heart.

  • ACE inhibitor
    A drug used to treat people with high blood pressure, heart failure or coronary heart disease. ACE stands for ‘angiotensin converting enzyme’.
  • Aneurysm
    A balloon-like swelling in an artery or in the wall of the heart..
  • Angina
    Heaviness or tightness in the centre of the chest, which may spread to the arms, neck, jaw, back or stomach or it may affect just the neck, jaw, arms or stomach. Angina is caused when the arteries to the heart become so narrow due to atheroma or spasm that not enough oxygen-rich blood can reach the heart muscle when the body is making high demands on it—such as during exercise. The pain can also happen when a person is resting.
  • Angiogram
    An X-ray picture of the blood vessels which shows whether the arteries are narrowed and, if so, how narrow they have become. An angiogram can be used to examine the coronary arteries [a coronary angiogram] or other arteries in your body.
  • Angiography
    A test to show whether your arteries are narrowed and how narrow they have become.
  • Angioplasty with stenting
    A treatment to widen a narrowed artery. A catheter [a fine, flexible, hollow tube] with a small inflatable balloon at its tip is passed into an artery in either your groin or your arm. It goes as far as the point in the coronary artery where a blockage has been detected. The balloon is inflated and it flattens the blockage. The balloon is then deflated and a stent made of stainless-steel mesh is left in place in the artery to strengthen the artery wall.
  • Anti-arrhythmic drug
    A drug used to control a disorder of the heart rhythm.
  • Arrhythmia
    A disorder of the normal heart rhythm.
  • Atherosclerosis
    The build-up of fatty material within the walls of the arteries.
  • Beating heart surgery
    Surgery that is carried out on the beating heart. This can be done through a wound along the chest bone or using minimally invasive surgery
  • Cardiac arrest
    When the heart stops. This usually happens suddenly, either as a result of a heart attack or if someone has a severe injury and loses a large amount of blood.
  • Cardiac catheterisation
    When a long, flexible, hollow, plastic tube called a ‘catheter’ is passed into a vein or artery either in the groin or the arm and is gently guided through the blood vessels. This technique is used to take angiograms or to carry out an angioplasty.
  • Cardiac rehabilitation
    Cardiac rehabilitation is the process which helps people with heart disease to regain and, if possible, improve their health.
  • Cardiac rehabilitation programme
    This is a programme for people who have had a heart attack or heart surgery—which covers exercise, relaxation, support and education to encourage long-term lifestyle changes. It usually lasts between 6 and 12 weeks.
  • Cardiomyopathy
    A disease of the heart muscle causing the heart to get bigger.
  • Cardiopulmonary resuscitation
    Actions to restore breathing or circulation, or both.
  • Congenital heart disease
    Heart conditions in which there are abnormalities of the structure of the heart or major blood vessels. These abnormalities are present at birth and some may be hereditary.
  • Coronary artery bypass surgery or coronary bypass surgery
    An operation to bypass a narrowed section or sections of coronary arteries and improve the blood supply to the heart.
  • ECG
    A test to record the rhythm and electrical activity of the heart. ECG stands for electrocardiogram.
  • 24-hour ECG
    Continuous recording of an ECG over 24 hours to look at the heart rhythm. The recorder produces an ECG which can be analysed later.
  • Echocardiogram
    An ultrasound picture of the heart which shows the structure of your heart and how it is working.
  • Ectopic beat
    An extra heartbeat.
  • Exercise ECG/Stress ECG
    When the rhythm and electrical activity of your heart are recorded while you are pedalling an exercise bicycle or walking on a treadmill.
  • Heart attack
    When one of the coronary arteries becomes blocked by a blood clot and part of the heart muscle is starved of oxygen, causing damage to the heart.
  • Heart block
    When the electrical impulses of the heart are slowed down or delayed by an interruption in the heart’s normal electrical activity.
  • Heart failure
    When the pumping action of the heart is inadequate.
  • Ischaemia
    When not enough blood is being supplied to the tissues or muscle. Cardiac ischaemia causes the pain known as angina.
  • Ischaemic heart disease
    When not enough blood is flowing through the coronary arteries to the heart.
  • Left heart failure
    Heart failure caused by an inefficient pumping action of the left side of the heart.
  • Myocardial infarction
    A heart attack.
  • Pacemaker
    A device which is implanted in the chest, to stimulate contractions of the heart.
  • Stent
    A short tube of expandable mesh which is inserted at the part of the artery which is to be widened by coronary angioplasty. The stent helps to support the artery wall.
  • Thrombosis
    When a blood clot forms in the blood vessels or heart.
  • Transplant [heart transplant]
    An operation to replace the entire heart with one from someone else.
  • Ventricular fibrillation
    A life-threatening disturbance in the heart rhythm which causes the heart to quiver or ‘fibrillate’ in a disordered way.
  • Ventricular tachycardia
    A condition where there is a fast heart rate in the ventricles.

Information courtesy: British Heart Federation [BHF]

This was first published in the September 2009 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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