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TALKING TO YOUR DOCTOR:

A GLOSSARY OF HEART HEALTH TERMS

Key Takeaways

IT’S IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND MEDICAL TERMS

You’ll be able to more fully understand your doctor’s advice.

A KNOWLEDGE OF TERMS GIVES YOU ASSURANCE

You’ll be more confident talking with your doctor using heart health terms.

IT’S OK TO ASK YOUR DOCTOR TO EXPLAIN TERMS

If you don’t understand, feel free to ask your doctor to explain anything

Doctors and cardiologists sometimes speak in terms that are hard to understand. Since your health is so important, you need to understand exactly what your doctor is saying, so there’s no confusion. Here’s a handy glossary of common heart health terminology.

Now you are armed with helpful definitions when you talk to your doctor.

A

AFib or Atrial Fib

(Short for Atrial Fibrillation.) This is an irregular heartbeat where the top two chambers of the heart (the atria) are not beating in a synchronized rhythm with the two bottom chambers (ventricles). Sometimes this condition produces dangerous blood clots that may enter the blood stream and cause a stroke.

Aneurysm

A bulging enlargement in an artery wall that can slowly develop over several years, causing an increased potential for bursting.

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 (Percutaneous Transluminal Coronary Angioplasty) or PCI (Percutaneous Coronary Intervention).

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).

Arrhythmia

Problems with the rate or rhythm of the heart, often treated with the installation of a pacemaker.

Atherosclerosis

Commonly called clogged arteries, it is caused by progressive buildup of plaque that can obstruct blood flow in arteries or rupture and cause a clot, which can cause blockages. Smoking, high blood pressure, high levels of "bad" or LDL cholesterol, diabetes and family history all increase risk for clogged arteries.

Atrial Fibrillation

See AFib

B

Blood Clot

A mass formed from constituents of the blood within blood vessels.

Blood Pressure

The pressure of the blood on the walls of the arteries, produced primarily by contraction of the heart muscle.

Blood Pressure (Diastolic)

Diastolic blood pressure is the bottom number in your blood pressure reading, which is also the lower of the two numbers. It measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart muscle is resting (between beats) and refilling with blood.

Blood Pressure (Systolic)

Systolic blood pressure is the top number of your blood pressure reading, which is also the higher of the two numbers. It measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart muscle contracts.

Blood Test (or Blood Work)

A sample of blood is taken (usually from your arm), and then analyzed to look for imbalances or signs of disease.

Blood Thinners

Medicines that help blood flow smoothly through the veins and arteries, and help keep blood clots from forming.

Body Mass Index (BMI)

An index for relating a person's body weight to his or her height. Check to see if you have a healthy BMI with this BMI calculator from the National Institutes of Health.

C

Cardiomegaly

Enlarged heart, usually due to high blood pressure causing the heart to pump harder which thickens the muscle.

Cardiomyopathy

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

Cardiovascular

Pertaining to the heart and blood vessels throughout the entire body – relating to the circulatory system.

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 helping to prevent a potential stroke.

Cerebrovascular

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

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. Lipoproteins are characterized by their density: high density lipoprotein (HDL) and low density lipoprotein (LDL).

Cholesterol (HDL)

HDL (high density lipoprotein) is the "good" cholesterol. High HDL levels reduce the risk for heart disease, but low levels increase the risk.

Cholesterol (LDL)

LDL (low density lipoprotein) is the "bad" cholesterol. Elevated LDL levels are associated with an increased risk of heart disease.

Cholesterol (Total)

Total cholesterol is defined as the sum of HDL, LDL, and your Triglycerides divided by 5.

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, and swelling and enlargement of the heart.

Coronary Artery Bypass Graft (CABG)

A surgical procedure whereby a new route is created around plaque within a coronary artery, using part of a vein or artery 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. If the plaque ruptures, it can cause the formation of a 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).

C-Reactive Protein (CRP)

A substance produced by the liver that increases in the presence of inflammation in the body. An elevated C-reactive protein level is identified with blood tests and is considered a non-specific “marker” for disease.

D

Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)

A blood clot formed deep in the body (usually in legs or hips) which can break off and lodge in lungs or elsewhere.

Diabetes

When used alone, the term refers to diabetes mellitus, a group of metabolic diseases characterized by high blood sugar, resulting from defects in the secretion and/or action of insulin. It occurs in two major forms: type I (insulin-dependent) diabetes mellitus and type II (non-insulin-dependent) diabetes mellitus.

Diastolic Pressure

Diastolic blood pressure is the bottom number in your blood pressure reading, which is also the lower of the two numbers. It measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart muscle is resting (between beats) and refilling with blood.

E

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 measures the heart’s electrical activity. 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.

Exercise (moderate)

Moderate physical activities that cause a slight increase in heart rate or breathing, such as raking leaves, mowing the lawn, or heavy cleaning.

Exercise (vigorous)

Vigorous physical activities that cause heavy sweating or a large increase in breathing or heart rate for at least 10 minutes at a time. Some examples include running, lap swimming, aerobics classes, or fast bicycling.

G

Gastrointestinal (GI) Bleed

An occurrence of bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract, which refers to the stomach and intestines.

H

HbA1c test

An HbA1c test measures a person's average blood sugar control for an average of 3 months and provides diabetes patients with a better idea of how well their diabetes treatment plan is working.

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).

Heart Event

The exact definition of a heart event can vary, but refers to an event associated with the cardiovascular system, such as a heart attack (myocardial infarction).

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)

Cholesterol is 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. Lipoproteins are characterized by their density: high density lipoprotein (HDL) and low density lipoprotein (LDL). HDL (high density lipoprotein) is the "good" cholesterol. High HDL levels reduce the risk for heart disease, but low levels increase the risk.

Hypertension

The medical term for high blood pressure.

Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy

Enlarged or thickened walls of the heart ventricles which may block efficient blood flow in and out.

I

Ischemic Stroke

A type of stroke caused by blockage of a blood vessel in the brain. This type of stroke accounts for 87% of all strokes.

L

Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL)

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. Lipoproteins are characterized by their density: high density lipoprotein (HDL) and low density lipoprotein (LDL). LDL (low density lipoprotein) is the "bad" cholesterol. Elevated LDL levels are associated with an increased risk of heart disease.

M

Myocardial Infarction (MI)

Medical term for heart attack. A heart attack happens when death of the heart muscle occurs 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.

Myocarditis

A disease marked by inflammation and damage of the heart muscle, from causes including viral infections, environmental toxins autoimmune diseases, or reactions to medications. It is believed that 5 to 20% of all cases of sudden death in young adults are due to myocarditis.

Morbid Obesity

The state of having a body mass index of 40% or higher. (Also see Obesity.)

O

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 increases the risk of a number of diseases including diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack and congestive heart failure.

P

Pacemaker

A small device placed in the chest or abdomen that uses low-energy electrical pulses to achieve normal heart rate and rhythm.

Plaque

Dead cells, cell debris, fatty acids, cholesterol and calcium that builds up in the walls of blood vessels, restricting the flow of blood.

Platelets

Cells in your blood that make blood clot. Also called “thrombocytes.”

Platelet Inhibitor

An agent/therapy that prevents or interferes with the formation of blood clots in blood vessels.

Polyunsaturated Fat

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

Prostaglandins

The prostaglandins are a group of physiologically active lipid compounds having diverse hormone-like effects in animals.

R

Risk Factor

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

S

Stress

Forces from the outside world impinging on the individual. Stress releases powerful neurochemicals and hormones that prepare the individual for action. This is called the "fight or flight" or stress response.

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 brain cells due to lack of oxygen and blood flow to the brain. Ischemic stroke is caused by a blockage of a blood vessel in the brain, while hemorrhagic stroke is caused by rupture of a blood vessel in the brain.

Systolic Pressure

Systolic blood pressure is the top number of your blood pressure reading, which is also the higher of the two numbers. It measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart muscle contracts.

T

Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA)

A neurological event with the signs and symptoms of a stroke, 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 less than 24 hours and can produce problems with vision, dizziness, weakness or trouble speaking. If not treated, a TIA carries a high risk of a major stroke in the near future.

Trans Fat

There are two broad types of trans fats found in food: naturally-occurring and artificial trans fats. Naturally-occurring trans fats come from animals, while artificial trans fats are created in an industrial process. Trans fats drive up levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol, which increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Triglyceride

A type of fat found in your blood. Triglycerides come from foods and are also products of the body.

THE HEART HEALTH RISK TOOL1

LEARN YOUR RISK OF A HEART ATTACK OR STROKE

Do you know your risk factors?2 Find out and get a personalized heart-healthy action plan to share with your doctor.

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MANAGING RISK:

WHY PRESCRIPTION MEDICATIONS MAY NOT BE ENOUGH

If you take prescription medications for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes, they may not be enough to protect your heart. Talk to your doctor about whether these medications are enough for you and whether adding an aspirin regimen can help further reduce the risk of another heart attack or clot-related (ischemic) stroke.

TELL ME HOW ASPIRIN HELPS

Aspirin is not appropriate for everyone, so be sure to talk to your doctor before you begin an aspirin regimen.

HEART ATTACK SURVIVOR STORIES