Heart Attack

Heart Attack: Glossary

Here are definitions of medical terms related to heart attack.

Adrenaline: One of the chemical messengers in the body that causes the heart to beat faster.

Angina: Term for choking pain (Latin, throat pain or choking). When coupled with the word ‘pectoris’ (Latin, of the chest), angina refers to a painful, constricting sensation in the chest. Angina is caused by coronary artery disease, which reduces the supply of blood to the heart muscle.

Angioplasty: The reconstruction of damaged blood vessels. Coronary angioplasty is an operation to enlarge a narrowed coronary artery.

Aorta: Great artery that arises from the left ventricle (pumping chamber) of the heart and is the starting point of the body’s arterial system.

Arrhythmia: Disturbance of the heart’s normal rhythm.

Arteries: Blood vessels that carry blood away from the heart and around the body.

Arteriography: Procedure used to make an x-ray picture (arteriogram) of an artery or arterial system after injecting a contrasting dye into the blood stream (see coronary angiography).

Atheroma: Bulging yellow mass or “plaque” that forms within the walls lining the arteries. Atheromas (Italian, porridge) contain a mix of fatty and fibrous scar tissue and, when deposited on the inner wall of an artery, reduce its inner diameter.

Atherosclerosis: Gradual build-up and hardening of atheromas within the arterial walls.

Atria: The two upper chambers of the heart (the left atrium and the right atrium), which take in blood flow from the veins.

Atrial fibrillation: A condition in which the heartbeat is irregular and often unusually rapid.

Atrial flutter: A condition in which the upper chambers of the heart contract rapidly, but the heart rhythm is regular.

Balloon angioplasty: Widening of an artery performed by passing a catheter with a tiny balloon attached to the end of a catheter, up an artery to the site of the blockage. The baloon is inflated against the arterial wall widening the sessel as the blockage is flattened. (also known as percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty [PTCA]).

Bradycardia: A slow heart rate (less than about 50 beats per minute).

Cardiac catheterization: Insertion of a catheter (fine tube) into an artery in the forearm or groin and snaking it through the blood vessels until it reaches the coronary arteries. This procedure is used during coronary angiography. See also coronary angiography.

Coronary angiography: Procedure used to make an x-ray picture (angiogram) of the heart’s blood vessels after injecting a contrasting dye into the blood stream.

Coronary angioplasty: See angioplasty

Coronary artery: Artery that delivers blood to the heart. The three major coronary arteries are the left anterior descending artery, left circumflex artery, and the right coronary artery.

Coronary artery disease (CAD): Narrowing of the arteries that supply the heart (also known as coronary heart disease [CHD] and ischemic heart disease [IHD]). The coronary arteries become blocked by atheromas that form within the walls lining the arteries.

Echocardiography: A noninvasive test that uses sound waves to produce images of the heart on a monitor.

Electrocardiography (ECG): Procedure used to measure the electrical activity of the heart muscle. It provides information about how the heart functions. The record produced by ECG is known as an electrocardiogram.

Exercise tolerance (stress) test: Procedure used to measure the heart’s response to exercise (also known as a stress test). During exercise tolerance testing, the individual is asked to ride a stationary bicycle or walk on a treadmill while a physician takes an electrocardiogram. See also electrocardiogram.

Fibrillation: Rapid, uncoordinated contraction (squeezing) of the heart muscle.

Heart block: A condition in which the impulses from the heart’s upper chambers are delayed or blocked from reaching the lower chambers.

Lipids: Group of fatty substances that are stored in the body and can be measured in the blood; they include high-density lipoproteins (HDL; “good cholesterol”), low-density lipoproteins (LDL; “bad cholesterol”), and triglycerides, among other compounds.

Myocardial infarction (MI): Death of tissue in the heart muscle; a “heart attack.”

Myocardial ischemia: Insufficient blood in the heart muscle.

Pacemaker: An electrical device that delivers electrical impulses to produce a heartbeat of desired frequency. Implantable pacemakers are the mainstay of treatment for bradycardia, and are also useful for some tachycardias.

Palpitations: Awareness of the heart beating; the heartbeat may feel fast, slow, forceful, or irregular.

Pericarditis: Inflammation of outer covering of the heart.

Percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty (PTCA): See balloon angioplasty.

Pneumothorax: The presence of air or gas in space that holds the lungs.

Plaque: See atheroma.

Prinzmetal’s angina: See variant angina pectoris.

Stress test: See exercise tolerance test.

SVTs (supraventricular tachycardias): Fast heartbeats that originate above the ventricles (in the atria, AV node, or both).

Tachycardia: The term used to describe a rapid heartbeat of greater than 100 beats per minute.

Variant angina pectoris: Angina caused by spasm (sudden contraction [squeezing response]) of the smooth muscle within the coronary arteries (also known as “Prinzmetal’s angina,” or angina inversa). Variant angina occurs almost exclusively when a person is at rest or asleep, often between the hours of midnight and 8 am.

Veins: The blood vessels that carry blood back to the heart.

Ventricles: The two lower chambers of the heart (the left ventricle and the right ventricle), which pump blood out of the heart and into the arteries.

Ventricular tachyarrhythmias: Fast heartbeats that originate in the ventricles.

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