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ABCs of The Heart

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

A Glossary of Terms

Gain a greater understanding of heart disease with North Mississippi Medical Center's Heart Institute's glossary of common heart terms.

A


Angina

Chest discomfort caused by the partial blockage of oxygen-rich blood to the heart

Aorta

The large vessel that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body.

Angioplasty

To widen the opening of a blocked artery, a balloon-tipped catheter is inserted into the artery. The balloon is inflated to compress (but not remove) plaque. Finally, the balloon is deflated and the catheter is removed.

Atherosclerosis

Fatty deposits on the lining of an artery that can cause blockage in the arteries supplying oxygen to the heart. Atherosclerosis is sometimes called hardening of the arteries.

Arrhythmia

An abnormal heart rhythm.

Atria

The upper chambers of the heart that pump blood to the lower chambers (ventricles).

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B


Bradycardia

An abnormally slow heart rhythm.

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C


Cardiac Catheterization

A procedure that provides X-ray images of the heart and arteries supplying the heart with oxygen-rich blood.

Cardiac Arrest

The stopping of the heartbeat, usually because of interference with the electrical signal.

Cardiologist

A physician specially trained in the diagnosis and treatment of heart disease.

Coronary Angiogram

To see the amount of blockage, a long tube (catheter) is inserted through an artery in the arm or leg and passed into the entrance of the coronary arteries. After dye is injected -- so the area can be seen on an X-ray screen -- the tube is removed.

Coronary Artery Disease

The narrowing of arteries that supply oxygen-rich blood to the heart. It is also sometimes called atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.

Coronary Bypass

A procedure used to reroute the heart's blood supply. A bypass is done by using a leg vein or chest artery to create a new path, bypassing the blockage. It's often necessary to have two to five bypasses done at one time.

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D


Defibrillation

A technique in which a high-energy electric shock is administered to the heart to treat life-threatening arrhythmias. This therapy can be used externally with defibrillating paddles or internally as part of therapy with an ICD (implantable cardioverter defibrillator).

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E


Electrocardiogram (ECG)

A graphical representation of the electrical activity of the heart.

Electrophysiologist

A cardiologist who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of heart rhythm disorders.

External Defibrillators

Portable devices used to shock life-threatening arrhythmias to normal rhythm. Using an external defibrillator, strong electric shocks are given between paddle electrodes placed on a patient's chest.

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H


Hypertension

Also called high blood pressure. Hypertension puts a strain on the heart by increasing its need for oxygen.

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I


ICD

An abbreviation for implantable cardioverter defibrillator. An ICD is a pager-sized implanted version of an external defibrillator used to treat life-threatening rhythms.

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N


Normal Heart Rhythm

The normal beating of the heart as regulated by the sinoatrial (SA) node; approximately 60 to 80 beats per minute.

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M


Myocardial Infarction

Damage or death of the heart muscle caused by an interruption of blood flow to the area.

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P


Plaque

Fatty deposits and calcium that can build up on the lining of an artery. This narrows the artery and reduces blood flow to the heart, making it hard for the heart to get the oxygen it needs.

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S


Sudden Cardiac Death

The sudden, abrupt loss of heart function (i.e., cardiac arrest) in a person who may or may not have been diagnosed with heart disease. The time and mode of death are unexpected. It occurs instantly or shortly after the onset of symptoms.

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T


Thoracotomy

An operation in which the chest (thorax) is open.

Tachycardia

A category of heart rhythm disorders characterized by an abnormally rapid or irregular heart rhythm. Known causes of tachyarrhythmias include coronary artery disease, heart attack, heart muscle disease and abnormal electrical impulses.

Treadmill Test

A test used to assess heart function and determine if the heart is getting enough oxygen-rich blood during exercise. It is always done with an electrocardiogram (ECG), which may indicate reduced blood flow.

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V


Ventricular Tachycardia(VT)

A heart rhythm disorder that originates in the ventricles. It is characterized by a rapid heart rhythm during which patients may feel faint or dizzy, or even pass out. During VT, the heart does not pump blood as efficiently as it does during a normal rhythm, and rapid contractions prevent it from filling adequately between beats.

Ventricles

The two lower chambers of the heart.

Ventricular Fibrillation (VF)

A heart rhythm disorder that originates in the ventricles. It is characterized by an abnormally rapid heart rhythm that is also highly unstable and irregular. During VF, electrical signals are moving chaotically through the heart, preventing it from beating properly.

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