Glossary of Medical Terms You Should Know

Angina - A condition resulting from inadequate blood supply to the heart muscle. Discomfort is usually felt in the chest and often in the left arm and shoulder. Commonly results from atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries (see coronary atherosclerosis).

Aorta - The main trunk artery, which receives blood from the lower left chamber of the heart. It originates from the base of the heart, arches up over the heart like a cane handle, and passes down through the chest and abdomen in front of the spine.

Arrhythmia - An abnormal rhythm of the heart beat. Arteriogram (Angiogram) - X-Ray examination of the heart arteries and great blood vessels that follows the course of an opaque fluid that has been injected into the bloodstream.

Arteriosclerosis - A hardening of the arteries. A generic term that includes many conditions that cause artery walls to become thick, hard and lose elasticity (see Atherosclerosis).

Artery - A blood vessel that carries oxygenated blood away from the heart to various parts of the body. (except the pulmonary artery, which carries unoxygenated blood from the heart to the lungs for oxygenation).

Atheroma - A deposit of fatty (and other) substances in the inner lining of the artery wall, characteristic of atherosclerosis.

Atherosclerosis - A kind of arteriosclerosis in which the inner layer of the artery wall is made thick and irregular by deposits of a fatty substance (cholesterol) and other material. These deposits (called atheroma) project above the surface of the inner layer of the artery, and decrease the diameter of the vessel. (See Arteriosclerosis.)

Atrium - One of the two upper chambers of the heart. The right atrium receives unoxygenated blood from the body. The left atrium receives oxygenated blood from the lungs.

Blood Pressure - The pressure of the blood in the arteries. Blood pressure is generally expressed by two numbers, as 120/80, the first representing the systolic, and the second, the diastolic pressure. 1. Systolic blood pressure - blood pressure when the heart muscle is contracted 2. Diastolic blood pressure - blood pressure when the heart muscle is relaxed between beats

Cardiac - Pertaining to the heart. Sometimes refers to a person who has heart disease.

Cardiovascular - Pertaining to the heart and blood vessels.

Catheterization - The process of examining the heart by means of introducing a thin tube (catheter) into a vein or artery and passing it into the heart.

Cholesterol - A fat-like substance found in animal tissue. In blood tests the normal level for Americans is assumed to be less than 200 milligrams per 100 cc. A higher level is associated with higher risk of coronary atherosclerosis.

Circulatory - Pertaining to the heart, blood vessels, and the circulation of the blood.

Collateral Circulation - Circulation of the blood through nearby smaller vessels which enlarge when a main vessel has been blocked up.

Congestive Heart Failure - When the heart is unable to adequately pump out all the blood that returns to it, there is a backing-up of blood in the veins leading to the heart. Congestion or accumulation of fluid in various parts of the body (lungs, legs, abdomen, etc.) may result from the heart’s failure to maintain proper circulation.

Coronary Arteries - Two arteries and their branches arising from the aorta, arching down over the top of the heart and conducting blood to the heart muscle. They are called “coronary” arteries because they run around the top of the heart like an inverted crown.

Coronary Artery Occlusion - A blockage (generally a blood clot) in a branch of one of the coronary arteries that hinders the flow of blood to some part of the heart muscle.

Coronary Atherosclerosis - Called coronary heart disease or coronary artery disease. (See Atherosclerosis.)

Coronary Thrombosis - Formation of a clot in one of the arteries that conduct blood to the heart muscle.

Diastole - In each heart beat, the period of the relaxation of the heart. Auricular diastole is the period of relaxation of the atria, or upper heart chambers. Ventricular diastole is the period of relaxation of the ventricles, or lower heart chambers.

Dyspnea - Difficult/labored breathing.

Edema - Swelling due to abnormal fluid amount in the body tissues.

Electrocardiogram - Referred to as EKG or ECG. A graphic record, of the heart's electrical currents.

Embolism - The blocking of a blood vessel by a clot or other substance

Hypercholesterolemia - An excess of fatty substance carried in the blood.

Hypertension - Commonly called high blood pressure. An unstable or persistent elevation of blood pressure above the normal range, which may eventually lead to increased heart size and kidney damage.

Infarct - An area of tissue that is damaged or dies as a result of not receiving enough blood supply. Frequently termed “myocardial infarction”, referring to an area of the heart muscle damaged by reduced blood flow through the coronary arteries that normally supply it.

Insufficiency - Incompetency. In the term “valvular insufficiency”, an improper closing of the valve that admits a back flow of blood in the wrong direction. In the term “myocardial insufficiency”, inability of the heart muscle to do a normal pumping job. carried in the bloodstream.

Intima - The innermost layer of a blood vessel.

Ischemia - A local, deficiency of blood in some part of the body, often caused by a constriction or spasm, or an obstruction in the blood vessel.

Monounsaturated Fat - A fat so constituted chemically that it is capable of absorbing additional hydrogen, but not as much hydrogen as a polyunsaturated fat. Recent studies suggest that these fats when substituted for saturated fat lower LDL cholesterol, while HDL cholesterol remains unchanged. Olive and canola oils are examples of monounsaturated oils.

Myocardial Infarction - Heart attack.

Myocardium - The muscular wall of the heart. It is the thickest of the three layers of the heart wall, and lies between the inner layer (endocardium) and outer layer (epicardium).

Open Heart Surgery - Surgery performed on the heart while the bloodstream is diverted through a heart-lung machine. This machine pumps and oxygenates the blood in place of the action of the heart and lungs during the operation.

Palpitation - A fluttering of the heart or abnormal rate or rhythm of the heart experienced by the person himself.

Polyunsaturated Fat - A fat so constituted chemically that it is capable of absorbing hydrogen. These fats are usually liquid oils of vegetable origin, such as corn oil or safflower oil. A diet with polyunsaturated fat tends to lower the amount of LDL and HDL cholesterol in the blood. These fats are sometimes substituted for saturated fat in a diet in an effort to lessen the hazard of fatty deposits in the blood vessels.

Pulmonary Artery - The large artery that conveys unoxygenated (venous) blood from the lower right chamber of the heart to the lungs. This is the only artery in the body that carries unoxygenated blood, all others carry oxygenated blood to the body.

Pulse - The expansion and contraction of an artery which may be felt with the finger.

Saturated Fat - A fat so constituted chemically that it is not capable of absorbing any more hydrogen. These are usually the solid fats of animal origin, such as the fats in milk, butter, and meat, or the tropical oils, such as cocoa butter, palm oil, palm kernel oil and coconut oils. A diet high in saturated fats tends to increase the amounts of cholesterol in the blood. Sometimes these fats are restricted in the diet in an effort to lessen the hazard of fatty deposits in the blood vessels.

- Abnormally fast heart rate. Generally, anything over 100 beats per minute is considered a tachycardia.

Thrombus - A blood clot that forms inside a blood vessel or cavity of the heart (see embolus).

Vein - Any one of a series of vessels of the vascular system that carries blood from various parts of the body back to the heart. All veins in the body carry unoxygenated blood except the pulmonary veins, which carry freshly oxygenated blood from the lungs back to the heart.

Vena Cava - The superior vena cava is a large vein carrying blood from the upper part of the body to the right atrium.

Ventricle - One of the two lower chambers of the heart. The left ventricle pumps oxygenated blood through arteries to the body. The right ventricle pumps unoxygenated blood through the pulmonary artery to the lungs.


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