Important cardiac definitions, because not everyone spent 12 years in medical school.
Aneurysm - An abnormal widening or ballooning of an artery, a vein or the heart, due to weakening of the artery wall.
Angina - Chest pain or discomfort due to coronary heart disease. Angina is a symptom of a condition called myocardial ischemia. Ischemia occurs when not enough oxygen carrying blood is able to reach the heart muscle (myocardium), as it needs it.
Stable angina (or chronic stable angina) - Refers to "predictable" chest discomfort such as that associated with physical activity or mental or emotional stress. Rest and/or nitroglycerin usually relieve stable angina.
Unstable angina - Refers to unexpected chest pain and usually occurs at rest. It is typically more severe and prolonged and is due to a reduced blood flow to the heart caused by the narrowing of the coronary arteries. Unstable angina or acute coronary syndrome should be treated as an emergency.
Angiography - An x-ray test used to diagnose diseases of the blood vessels, such as weakening of the vessel walls and the narrowing or blocking of vessels, and to examine the chambers of the heart. The x-ray is taken after the vessels have been injected with a substance (contrast) that allows them to be visualized on a computer screen. The pictures that are obtained are called angiograms. Coronary angiography is done during a cardiac catheterization.
Arrhythmia (dysrhythmia) - An abnormal heart rhythm caused by a disruption of the normal functioning of the heart's electrical conduction system. Normally, the atria and ventricles contract in a coordinated manner. Arrhythmias result in ineffective and uncoordinated contractions of the heart muscle and may cause a slow, rapid or irregular pulse. Arrhythmias may cause decreased cardiac output and failure to pump enough blood to meet the body's needs. Some causes of arrhythmias are coronary artery disease, rheumatic heart disease, hypertension and acute myocardial infarction. Hyperthyroidism and some medications may also cause arrhythmia.
Arteriosclerosis - Commonly called hardening of the arteries, this includes a variety of conditions that cause artery walls to thicken and lose elasticity. Arteriosclerosis can occur because of fatty deposits on the inner lining of arteries (atherosclerosis), calcification of the wall of the arteries, or thickening of the muscular wall of the arteries from chronically elevated blood pressure. It also is associated with aging. Atherosclerosis is a form of arteriosclerosis
Artery - One of a series of vessels that carry oxygenated blood from the heart to the various parts of the body. Their thick elastic walls expand as blood flows through the arteries.
Atrial Fibrillation - A disorder of heart rate and rhythm in which the heart's two small, upper chambers (atria) quiver rapidly like a bowl of gelatin and empty blood into the heart's lower chambers (ventricles) in a disorganized manner instead of beating effectively. Blood that isn't pumped completely out of the atria when the heart beats may pool and clot. If a piece of a clot enters the bloodstream, it may lodge in the brain causing a stroke (ischemic stroke).
Causes of atrial fibrillation include dysfunction of the sinus node (the heart's pacemaking area in the right atrium), coronary artery disease, rheumatic heart disease, hypertension and hyperthyroidism. Since 15 percent of strokes occur in people with atrial fibrillation, its treatment is important to stroke prevention.
Blood Pressure - The force or pressure exerted by the heart against the walls of the arteries. When the arterioles (smaller arteries) constrict (narrow), the blood must flow through a smaller "pipe" and the pressure rises. High blood pressure can result, adding to the workload of the heart and arteries.
Optimal blood pressure is less than 120/80 mm Hg. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a condition in which blood pressure levels are above the normal range. Blood pressures of 120-139/80-89 mm Hg are considered pre-hypertension. Blood pressure is considered high if it is 140/90 mm Hg or higher.
High blood pressure increases the risk for heart attack, angina, stroke, kidney failure and peripheral artery disease (PAD). It may also increase the risk of developing fatty deposit in arteries (atherosclerosis). The risk of heart failure also increases due to the increased workload that high blood pressure places on the heart.
Cholesterol - A soft, waxy substance found among the lipids or fats in the bloodstream and in all the body's cells. It's an important part of a healthy body because it's used to form cell membranes, some hormones and is needed for other functions. Cholesterol and other fats can't dissolve in the blood. They have to be transported to and from the cells by special carriers called lipoproteins.
There are several kinds of cholesterols, but the most important are low-density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad") which carries triglycerides. Triglycerides, a common type of blood fat, can also affect cardiac risk and high-density lipoprotein (HDL or "good").
Coronary Arteries - Two arteries arising from the aorta that arch down over the top of the heart and branch out in additional arteries that provide blood to the heart muscle.
Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) - Conditions that cause narrowing of the coronary arteries, reducing blood flow to the heart muscle. A type of atherosclerosis. Severe cases can result in heart attack.