Glossary | WomenHeart

Glossary

Angina

A type of chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart. Angina is a symptom of coronary artery disease and has been described as squeezing, pressure, heaviness, tightness or pain in the chest. Either occurring suddenly or recurring over time, depending on the severity, it can be treated by lifestyle changes, medication, or surgery.

[Watch our expert video on angina] [Spanish]

 

Anticoagulants

Anticoagulants are medications that help to eliminate or reduce the risk of blood clots. They may also be called blood thinners, but do not actually thin your blood. Instead, they work to break up existing blood clots or prevent news ones from forming within your blood vessels or heart.

[Watch our expert video on oral anticoagulants]

 

Arrhythmia

An arrhythmia is an improper heart beat rhythm, which can occur when the electrical pulses that coordinate your heartbeat do not work properly. Arrhythmias can cause your heart to beat too fast, too slow, or irregularly, and can feel like a fluttering or racing pattern. Some arrhythmias are harmless, but some can be bothersome or life threatening. Shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, or feeling faint may also occur with arrhythmias.

 

Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation is an irregular and often rapid heart rate that can increase a person’s risk of stroke, heart failure or other heart related complications. This is also referred to as AFib, and occurs when the heart’s two upper chambers beat out of coordination with the two lower ones. Symptoms may include heart palpitations, shortness of breath and weakness.

[Watch a live discussion with our experts on AFib]

[Watch our expert video on AFib]

 

Blood Pressure

Your blood pressure is recorded with two numbers. Systolic blood pressure is the amount of pressure your blood is exerting on your artery walls when your heart beats. The other, diastolic blood pressure, shows the pressure exerted on artery walls when the heart is at rest. Blood pressure is different from your pulse, and can be monitored at home with a cuff or at your doctor’s office.

 

Cardiovascular

Of or relating to the circulatory system – which includes your heart and blood vessels.

 

Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a waxy substance your body uses to build cells and circulates within your blood. Too much dietary cholesterol from meat, poultry or dairy can become unhealthy. There are two types of cholesterol, HDL (good) and LDL (bad). When these levels get out of balance, cholesterol can build up in the arteries. Learn more about preventing and managing high cholesterol.

[Watch our expert video on cholesterol] [Spanish]

 

Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)

CAD can develop due to damage or diseased blood vessels that supply the heart with blood, oxygen and nutrients. The root cause is typically cholesterol plaque deposits in the arteries and inflammation. CAD often develops over decades, so signs aren’t always visible until the condition becomes serious, however there are ways to prevent and treat CAD before it gets to that point.

[Watch our video on coronary artery disease]

 

Endocarditis

The inner lining of your heart chambers and valves is called the endocardium. Endocarditis occurs when this lining becomes infected. This is usually caused by bacteria, fungi, or other germs that spread through your bloodstream and attach to damaged areas of the heart. Antibiotics can be used in treatment, however if the damage is severe, endocarditis can be life-threatening.

 

Electrocardiogram

Also referred to as an ECG or EKG, an electrocardiogram monitors and records the electrical signals in your heart. These are used when checking for heart complications, or to monitor heart activity.

 

Heart Attack

Also known as a myocardial infarction, a heart attack occurs after blood flow to the heart is blocked, typically by fat or cholesterol buildup in the arteries. When the plaque builds up too much and breaks away it forms a clot, which disrupts the flow of blood and can destroy heart muscle. It is critical that you call 911 if you think you are having a heart attack.

 

Heart Disease/Cardiovascular Disease (CVD)

Cardiovascular diseases are conditions which affect the heart and blood vessels in different ways. Heart disease is often used interchangeably with cardiovascular disease, referring to conditions of narrowed, blocked or damaged blood vessels.

 

Heart Failure

Heart failure includes conditions that occur when the heart muscles do not pump blood as well as it should. These conditions, including coronary artery disease or high blood pressure, leave the heart muscles too weak or stiff to pump efficiently.

[Watch our expert video on heart failure]

 

Heart Valve Disease

In heart valve disease, one or more of the four valves of the heart do not work properly. In some cases, the valves don’t open or close the way they should, causing disruption to the blood flow. Treatment depends on the severity of the affected valve, and may require surgery.

 

Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator

(ICD) ICD’s are battery powered devices placed under the skin that keep track of a person’s heart rate. They are used in preventing cardiac arrest in high-risk heart patients who may not have had, but are at risk for a life-threatening arrhythmia. Newer devices may also be equipped with a pacemaker function, which stimulates the heart if an irregular beat is detected.

[Watch an ICD survivor story]

 

Ischemia

Myocardial ischemia, or cardiac ischemia occurs when the heart does not receive enough oxygen, due to reduced blood flow caused by a partial or full blockage of your heart’s arteries. This can be damaging to the heart muscle, and if ischemia occurs too suddenly it can lead to a heart attack. Treatment can include medications or procedures to increase blood flow.

 

Modifiable/Non Modifiable Risk Factor

A risk factor that is modifiable means that you can take steps to change the way it affects your chances of developing heart disease. Smoking, diet, cholesterol, and diabetes are all risk factors you can manage. A non-modifiable risk factor is one that cannot be changed, such as your age, gender, race or family history.

 

Microvascular disease

Also known as small vessel disease, occurs following damage to the walls of the small arteries of the heart. It is often diagnosed when a patient presents symptoms of heart disease, but shows little to no narrowing of the main arteries of the heart. Small vessel disease in more common in women, those with high blood pressure or diabetes.

 

Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)

PAD is a condition where narrowed arteries reduce the blood flow to your limbs. When you have PAD, your extremities, typically the legs, don’t receive as much blood as they should. PAD may also be an indicator for fatty deposits in your arteries which may be reducing blood flow.

[Watch our guide video on PAD] [Spanish]

[Watch a live expert discussion on PAD]

 

Preeclampsia

Preeclampsia is a complication of pregnancy often causing high blood pressure and damage to organs like the liver or kidneys. This usually begins to develop about 20 weeks into pregnancy where the blood pressure was once normal. Untreated, preeclampsia can cause complications for the mother and the baby.

 

Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD)

SCAD is an uncommon but emergency condition caused by a small tear in one of the arteries or blood vessels of the heart. This condition can slow or block blood flow, causing a heart attack or arrhythmias, and can be fatal. Those who develop SCAD are often healthy, commonly in their 40s or 50s, and without the typical risk factors for heart disease.

 

Statins

Statins are prescription medications that can help to lower your cholesterol. They work by blocking a substance your body requires in order to make cholesterol. Statins also help to reabsorb any existing built-up cholesterol plaques on arteries, which can help to prevent future blockage or heart attack. Sometimes, statins are paired with another heart medication.

 

Stent

When arteries become blocked due to plaque buildup, a stent may be used to prop the artery open and reduce the chance of a heart attack. A stent is a very tiny wire mesh tube that is inserted into the blocked artery and locked into place by a balloon catheter.

 

Stroke

A stroke occurs when blood supply to a part of the brain is either restricted or reduced. When this happens, oxygen and nutrients aren’t able to reach brain cells, which then begin to die off. With a stroke, prompt emergency care is critical to minimize brain damage. However, strokes can be prevented and treated with the right medical care.

[Hear one of our stroke survivor stories]

 

Triglycerides

Triglycerides are a type of fat known as a lipid, which is found in your blood. When you eat, calories that are not used right away are turned into triglycerides and stored in your fat cells. These are later released as energy between meals. High levels of triglycerides can increased your chances of developing heart disease. Those with concerns of high cholesterol should also monitor their triglyceride levels.