HEART/STROKE: Words to Live By
A glossary of heart health words to help you decipher "DocSpeak"
Your loved one is in the ER with what you've been told is a "heart attack" and the doctor starts to fill you in on the details. All you hear is, "Blah, blah, aneurysm, blah, angioplasty, blah." And all you can think is, Help, I don't understand.
The following is a sample of common words you might hear after your loved one has a cardiac event. For additional help, click here to review the American Heart Association's "Cardiac Glossary of Terms".
A bulge in a blood vessel, much like a bulge on an over-inflated tire, which is dangerous because it may burst. Aneurysms may be treated surgically.
Chest pain or discomfort caused by fatty buildup (plaque) that narrows arteries and prevents the heart muscle from getting all the blood it needs. It is a sign that a person is at higher risk of heart attack, cardiac arrest or sudden cardiac death.
A procedure in which a thin flexible tube (catheter) with a tiny balloon on the inserted end is used to open blocked arteries after being threaded into an artery, often in the groin, and advanced to the point of blockage using X-ray pictures as a guide. At the blockage, the balloon is inflated, compressing the plaque and opening the artery. Often, a stent is placed in the artery to help prevent it from re-closing.
Abnormal heart rhythm caused when the heart's electrical system malfunctions, resulting in less effective pumping of the heart.
The process in which fats, cholesterol, calcium, cellular waste products and other substances build up in the inner lining of an artery. This buildup (plaque) can restrict the flow of blood (hence, oxygen) to muscles served by the artery. If arteries supplying the heart become packed with plaque, chest pain can result. If arteries in the legs are affected, leg pain can make walking difficult. Sometimes plaque can split open (rupture), triggering the formation of a blood clot that can block the artery either at that point or break off and travel through the bloodstream and lodge at another point. If it blocks blood flow to the heart muscle, a heart attack occurs. If it blocks blood flow to the brain, a stroke occurs.
A quivering (vs. beating) of the heart muscle that occurs when the heart's electrical system (which makes the heart beat) malfunctions, resulting in the sudden, abrupt loss of heart function. Whether spontaneous or caused by a heart attack, death follows in minutes unless a shock from a defibrillator is given and a normal heartbeat resumes. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) can help keep alive a person suffering cardiac arrest until a defibrillator is used.
Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)
The most common type of heart disease, CAD occurs when the arteries that supply blood to your heart (coronary arteries) become narrowed or blocked by plaque. The narrowed arteries decrease the amount of blood and oxygen reaching the heart, which can result in chest pain (angina) or a heart attack.
A test to graphically record the heart's electrical impulses used to find out if the heart rate and rhythm are normal or if heart damage has occurred. A Holter monitor is a 24- to 48-hour portable electrocardiogram device used to detect heart rhythm problems, ischemia or other related problems.
A condition in which the heart can't pump enough blood to the body's other organs. The "failing" heart keeps working, enlarging as it becomes progressively weaker and less efficient. As blood flow out of the heart slows, blood returning to the heart through the veins backs up, causing congestion in the tissues (hence, congestive heart failure). It often can be treated with diet and other lifestyle changes, surgery or, in the most extreme cases, heart transplant.
A condition in which blood flow (thus, oxygen) is restricted to a part of the body. Cardiac ischemia or ischemic heart disease is a lack of blood flow to the heart muscle, usually due to a blocked or constricted artery. Silent ischemia is the same condition but without pain. Those with silent ischemia may eventually have a heart attack without prior warning.
Myocardial Infarction (Heart Attack)
The death of or damage to part of the heart muscle caused by a blood clot or other particle that blocks blood flow in a coronary artery.
A wire mesh tube used to prop open an artery during an angioplasty. Collapsed to a small diameter and put over a balloon catheter, via which it's moved to the blockage site, the stent expands when the balloon is inflated, then locks in place and forms a scaffold to permanently hold open the artery and thereby improve blood flow to the heart.