Heart Disease-Let’s Throw Around Some Big Words

Heart Disease-Big Words

Heart Disease-Let’s throw around some big words, because there are so many types and so many reasons.

It’s enough to give you palpitations… 

Your head may be spinning as you walk out of your Doctor’s office with what you think is a diagnosis for that funny feeling in your chest…

So, here’s a group of the most common terminology used when discussing heart disease.


heart disease-chambers of the heartAtria  

  • The two upper chambers of the heart.


  • The two lower chambers of the heart.

Vena cava

  • The superior vena cava is the large vein which returns blood to the heart from the head, neck and both upper limbs.
  • The inferior vena cava returns blood to the heart from the lower part of the body.

SA node

  • The SA node (SA stands for sinoatrial) is one of the major elements in the cardiac conduction system (the system that controls the heart rate).

This stunningly designed system generates electrical impulses and conducts them throughout the muscle of the heart, stimulating the heart to contract and pump blood.


  • Abnormally slow heart rate (below 60 beats per minute)
  • Bradycardia can be the result of many things including good physical fitness, medications, and some forms of heart block.

Vasovagal syncope

  • An episode of profound bradycardia associated with a noxious stimulus that causes the vagal system of the body to kick in and slow the heart rate.


  • Abnormally fast heart rate (above 100 beats per minute)

Cardiac output

  • It can be calculated by the amount of blood that the heart pumps with each beat (stroke volume) multiplied by the heart rate.

Cardiac output = (stroke volume) X (heart rate)

The stroke volume tends to be relatively constant. When the body requires extra oxygen delivery, the heart rate needs to increase to meet that demand. Examples include:

  • Exercise, in which the muscles have greater oxygen requirements and the heart rate speeds up to pump more blood to meet that need;
  • Dehydration, in which there is less fluid in the body and the heart rate has to speed up to compensate, or
  • And in cases of acute bleeding that may occur, as after an accident.

The electrical system can be stimulated in many ways to make the heart beat faster.

  • In times of stress, the body generates adrenaline, causing an increased heart rate in addition to other changes in the body. Think of being frightened and feeling your heart race. Adrenaline is the “fight or flight” hormone.
  • Ingestion of a variety of drugs can also cause the heart to race, including caffeinealcohol, and over-the-counter cold medications that include chemicals such as phenylephrine.

 ➡ These compounds are metabolized by the body and act like an adrenaline stimulus to the heart.

  • Illegal drugs like methamphetamine and cocaine can also cause a sinus tachycardia.

 Learn About Why Cocaine Is The Perfect Heart Attack Drug here

  • In some people, exposure to pain or a difficult emotional situation can stimulate the vagus nerve, slow the heart, and dilate blood vessels (veins), causing the cardiac output to decrease and making a person feel light-headed or faint.
  • The vagus nerve can also be stimulated to slow the heart when one bears down to urinate (micturition syncope) or have a bowel movement.

Arrhythmias (abnormal rhythms)

  • Arrhythmias refer to heartbeats that are too slow, too fast, irregular, or too early.
  • Rhythm disturbances are classified according to whether they come from the atrium or ventricle, are fast or slow, regular or irregular.

Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) in public places have helped decrease the mortality from sudden cardiac death, but prevention remains the mainstay to survive this event.

Some people, like those with a very weak heart muscle or who have a prior history of ventricular fibrillation, will require an implantable defibrillator to prevent future episodes of sudden death and treat this rhythm. (see the article listed below) Read about Implantable Defibrillators Here.

Ablation: (Removal or excision)

  • Ablation is usually carried out surgically. For example, surgical removal of the thyroid gland (a total thyroidectomy) is an ablation of the thyroid. 


  • A key chemical in neurons (nerve cells) that acts as a neurotransmitter and carries information across the synaptic cleft, the space between two nerve cells. 


  • Of abrupt onset, in reference to a disease. Acute often also connotes an illness that is of short duration, rapidly progressive, and in need of urgent care.


  • A substance produced by the medulla (inside) of the adrenal gland, adrenaline is synonymous with epinephrine. 

 ➡ Technically speaking, Adrenaline causes a quickening of the heart beat, strengthens the force of the heart’s contraction, opens up the bronchioles in the lungs and has many other effects.

  • The secretion of adrenaline by the adrenal gland is also part of the “fight-or-flight” reaction that we have in response to being frightened.


  • Without symptoms. For example, an asymptomatic infection is an infection with no symptoms.


  • The process of progressive thickening and hardening of the walls of arteries from fat deposits on their inner lining.

Atherosclerotic heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US.

AV node

  • An electrical relay station between the atria (the upper chambers of the heart) and the ventricles (the lower chambers of the heart).

 ➡ Electrical signals from the atria must pass through the AV node to reach the ventricles.


  • Not malignant. A benign tumor does not invade surrounding tissue or spread to other parts of the body. A benign tumor may grow but it stays put (in the same place).

Blood clots

  • Blood that has been converted from a liquid to a solid state. Also called a thrombus.

Blood pressure

  • The blood pressure is the pressure of the blood within the arteries. It is produced primarily by the contraction of the heart muscle.

Its measurement is recorded by two numbers:

  • The first, systolic pressure is measured after the heart contracts and is the highest number.
  • The second, diastolic pressure is measured before the heart contracts and is the lowest number.

 ➡ Hypertension is elevation of the blood pressure (“high blood pressure”) 

 ➡ Hypotension is a drop in blood pressure (“low blood pressure”)

Cardiac output

  • The amount of blood that is pumped by the heart per unit of time, measured in liters per minute (l/min).


  • Disease of the heart muscle (the myocardium). 

Read up on Cardiomyopathy here


  • The conversion of one cardiac rhythm or electrical pattern to another, almost always from an abnormal to a normal one.
  • This conversion can be accomplished by using medications or by electrical cardioversion using a defibrillator.


  • A thin, flexible tube. For example, a catheter placed in a vein provides a pathway for giving drugs, nutrients, fluids, or blood products. Samples of blood can also be withdrawn through the catheter.


  • The basic structural and functional unit in people and all living things. Each cell is a small container of chemicals and water, wrapped in a membrane.


  • The most common type of steroid in the body, cholesterol has gotten something of a bad name. However, cholesterol is a critically important molecule in the body.


  • A condition that is congenital is one that is present at birth. 


  • The use of a carefully controlled electric shock, administered either through a device on the exterior of the chest wall or directly to the exposed heart muscle, to restart or normalize heart rhythms.


  • To stretch or enlarge. It comes from the Latin verb “dilatare” meaning “to enlarge or expand.”


  • The swelling of soft tissues as a result of excess water accumulation.


  • A recording of the electrical activity of the heart. An electrocardiogram is a simple, non-invasive procedure.
  • Electrodes are placed on the skin of the chest and connected in a specific order to a machine that, when turned on, measures electrical activity all over and around the heart.


  • An electrolyte is a substance that will separate into ions in solution and acquire the capacity to conduct electricity.
  • The electrolytes include sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, and phosphate. 

Heart block

  • A block in the conduction of the normal electrical impulses in the heart.

Heart muscle

  • A type of muscle with unique features only found in the heart. The heart muscle, or cardiac muscle, is medically called the myocardium (“myo-” being the prefix denoting muscle).

Heart rate

  • The number of heartbeats per unit time, usually per minute.
  • The heart rate is based on the number of contractions of the ventricles (the lower chambers of the heart).
  • The heart rate may be too fast (tachycardia) or too slow (bradycardia).


  • A bulge of an artery from the wave of blood coursing through the blood vessel as a result of the heartbeat. 


  • A chemical substance produced in the body that controls and regulates the activity of certain cells or organs.


  • An essential or inherent part of a something such as a structure.
  • Coming from within, from the inside.


  • Inadequate blood supply (circulation) to a local area due to blockage of the blood vessels to the area.


  • A bundle of fibers that uses chemical and electrical signals to transmit sensory and motor information from one body part to another. 


  • Literally a knot, a node is a collection of tissue. For example, a lymph node is a collection of lymphoid tissue.
  • A nodule is a small node, a little collection of tissue.


  • A system that sends electrical impulses to the heart to set the heart rhythm. The pacemaker can be the normal “natural” pacemaker of the heart or it can be an electronic device. Learn about them here.


  • Unpleasant sensations of irregular and/or forceful beating of the heart.
  • In some patients with palpitations, no heart disease or abnormal heart rhythms can be found.
  • In others, palpitations result from abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias). 


  • Something that is normal, neither due to anything pathologic nor significant in terms of causing illness.


  • Forerunner. That which precedes or is derived from an available source.

Primary care

  • The “medical home” for a patient, ideally providing continuity and integration of health care.
  • All family physicians and most pediatricians and internists are in primary care. The aims of primary care are to provide the patient with a broad spectrum of care, both preventive and curative, over a period of time and to coordinate all the care the patient receives.


  • Having to do with the lungs. 


  • The rhythmic contraction and expansion of an artery due to the surge of blood from the beat of the heart.
  • The pulse is most often measured by feeling the arteries of the wrist. There is also a pulse, although far weaker, in veins.


  • In medicine, Shock is a critical condition brought on by a sudden drop in blood flow through the body.
  • There is a failure of the circulatory system to keep up adequate blood flow.
  • This sharply interferes with the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to vital organs.
  • It also compromises the kidneys and so it prevents the removal of wastes from the body.

Shock can be due to several different mechanisms including:

  • not enough blood volume (hypovolemic shock) and
  • not enough output of blood by the heart (cardiogenic shock).

The signs and symptoms of shock include

  • low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • hyperventilation
  • a weak rapid pulse
  • cold clammy grayish-bluish (cyanotic) skin
  • decreased urine flow (oliguria)
  • mental changes (a sense of great anxiety and foreboding, confusion and, sometimes, combativeness)

Shortness of breath 

  • Difficulty breathing. Medically called dyspnea.
  • Shortness of breath can be caused by respiratory (breathing passages and lungs) or circulatory (heart and blood vessels) conditions. 

Sinus rhythm

  • The normal regular rhythm of the heart set by the natural pacemaker of the heart called the sinoatrial (or sinus) node.
  • It is located on the wall of the right atrium (the right upper chamber of the heart).
  • Normal cardiac impulses start there and are transmitted to the atria and down to the ventricles (the lower chambers of the heart).

Sinus tachycardia

  • A fast heartbeat (tachycardia) because of rapid firing of the sinoatrial (sinus) node.


  • The sudden death of some brain cells due to a lack of oxygen when the blood flow to the brain is impaired by blockage or rupture of an artery to the brain.
  • A stroke is also called a cerebrovascular accident (CVA).


  • Partial or complete loss of consciousness with interruption of awareness of oneself and one’s surroundings.
  • Loss of consciousness is temporary and there is spontaneous recovery
  • Syncope accounts for one in every 30 visits to an emergency room.


  • A set of signs and symptoms that tend to occur together and which show the presence of a particular disease or an increased chance of developing a particular disease.

If you haven’t fallen asleep by now, print out this little guide and take it with you the next time you or one of your loved ones makes a trip to the Cardiologist…it’ll make your visit run smoother if you understand what he/she is saying! 🙂 


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