Like any exclusive club, heart disease has its own jargon, understandable only by other members of the club, particularly by cardiac care providers. For example, I remember lying in my CCU bed (that’s the Coronary Intensive Care Unit), trying to memorize the letters LAD (that’s the Left Anterior Descending, the large coronary artery whose 99% blockage had caused my MI (myocardial infarction – in my case, the so-called ‘widowmaker’ heart attack).
To help others needing simultaneous translation of this new lingo in your research or in your own medical records, here’s a helpful list of some of the most common acronyms/terms you’ll likely find around the cardiac ward.
AA – Anti-arrhythmic: Drugs used to treat patients who have irregular heart rhythms.
ABI – Ankle-Brachial Index: The ratio of the blood pressure in the lower legs to the blood pressure in the arms. Compared to the arm, lower blood pressure in the leg may be an indication of blocked arteries (See PAD or Peripheral Artery Disease)
Ablation – See Cardiac Ablation.
ACE Inhibitor – Angiotension Converting Enzyme inhibitor: A drug that lowers blood pressure by interfering with the breakdown of a protein-like substance involved in regulating blood pressure.
ACS – Acute Coronary Syndrome: An emergency condition brought on by sudden reduced blood flow to the heart. The first sign of acute coronary syndrome can be sudden stopping of your heart (cardiac arrest).
AED – Automatic External Defibrillator: A portable defibrillator for use during a cardiac emergency; it can be used on patients experiencing sudden cardiac arrest by applying a brief electroshock to the heart through electrodes placed on the chest.
AF or Afib – Atrial Fibrillation: An irregular and often rapid heart rate that can cause poor blood flow to the body. Afib symptoms include heart palpitations, shortness of breath, weakness or fainting. Episodes of atrial fibrillation can come and go, or you may have chronic atrial fibrillation.
AFL – Atrial Flutter: A type of arrhythmia where the upper chambers of the heart (the atria) beat very fast, causing the walls of the lower chambers (the ventricles) to beat inefficiently as well.
A-HCM – Apical Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy: Also called Yamaguchi Syndrome or Yamaguchi Hypertrophy, a non-obstructive form of cardiomyopathy (a disease of the heart muscle that leads to generalized deterioration of the muscle and its pumping ability) in which a portion of the heart muscle is hypertrophied (thickened) without any obvious cause although there may be a genetic link. It was first described in individuals of Japanese descent.
AI – Aortic Insufficiency: A heart valve disease in which the aortic valve does not close tightly, leading to the backward flow of blood from the aorta (the largest blood vessel) into the left ventricle (a chamber of the heart).
AIVR – Accelerated Idioventricular Rhythm: Ventricular rhythm whose rate is greater than 49 beats/min but less than 100 beats/min, usually benign. (Ventricles are the two main chambers of the heart, left and right).
AMI – Acute Myocardial Infarction: See MI
Angiography – A technique of injecting a dye into the vascular system (through the wrist or groin artery) to outline the heart and coronary blood vessels with x-ray guidance, an angiogram can help physicians identify blockages, narrowing, or abnormalities in the coronary arteries. See also cardiac catheterization
Angioplasty – An invasive but non-surgical technique for treating diseased arteries by temporarily inflating a tiny balloon inside an artery during an angiography procedure. A tiny metal stent is almost always inserted during this procedure to help keep the artery opened. Also called Percutaneous Transluminal Coronary Angioplasty (PTCA) or Percutaneous Coronary Intervention (PCI). See also: “10 Things I Didn’t Know About Angioplasty Until I Read This Book”
Angina (stable) – A condition marked by distressing symptoms typically between neck and navel that come on with exertion and go away with rest, caused by an inadequate blood supply to the heart muscle typically because of narrowed coronary arteries feeding the heart muscle. Also known as Angina Pectoris. Unstable angina (UA) occurs when fatty deposits (plaques) in a blood vessel rupture or a blood clot forms, blocking or reducing flow through a narrowed artery, suddenly and severely decreasing blood flow to the heart muscle. Unstable angina is not relieved by rest; it’s dangerous and requires emergency medical attention.
Antiplatelet drugs – Medications that block the formation of blood clots by preventing the clumping of platelets (examples: Plavix, Effient, Brillinta, Ticlid, etc). Heart patients, especially those with implanted stents after PCI, are often prescribed dual antiplatelet therapy which includes one of these prescribed meds along with daily low-dose aspirin.
Aorta – The main artery of the body, carrying blood from the left side of the heart to the arteries of all limbs and organs except the lungs.
Aortic Stenosis: A disease of the heart valves in which the opening of the aortic valve is narrowed. Also called AS.
Aortic valve – One of four valves in the heart, this valve allows blood from the left ventricle to be pumped up (ejected) into the aorta, but prevents blood from returning to the heart once it’s in the aorta.
AP – Apical Pulse: A central pulse located at the apex (pointy bottom) of the heart.
Apex – the lowest (pointy) tip of the heart that points downward at the base, forming what almost looks like a rounded point.
Apical Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (A-HCM): Also called Yamaguchi Syndrome or Yamaguchi Hypertrophy, a non-obstructive form of cardiomyopathy (a disease of the heart muscle that leads to generalized deterioration of the muscle and its pumping ability) in which a portion of the heart muscle is hypertrophied (thickened) without any obvious cause. There may be a genetic link. It was first described in people of Japanese descent.
Arrhythmia – A condition in which the heart beats with an irregular or abnormal rhythm.
AS – Aortic Stenosis: A disease of the heart valves in which the opening of the aortic valve is narrowed.
ASA – Atrial Septal Aneurysm: An abnormally enlarged, bulging and mobile atrial septum, the membrane that separates the left and the right upper chambers of the heart (the atria); ASA is also Aspirin
ASD – Atrial Septal Defect: See Septal Defect.
Atrial Fibrillation – See AF or Afib
Atrial Flutter – A heart rhythm problem (arrhythmia) originating from the right atrium, most often involving a large circuit that travels around the area of the tricuspid valve (between the right atrium and the right ventricle (this is called typical atrial flutter). Less commonly, atrial flutter can also result from circuits in other areas of the right or left atrium that cause the heart to beat fast (called atypical atrial flutter).
Atrial Septum, the membrane that separates the left and the right upper chambers of the heart (the atria).
Atrium – A chamber of the heart that receives blood from the veins and forces it into a ventricle or ventricles. Plural: atria.
AV – Atrioventricular: A group of cells in the heart located between the upper two chambers (the atria) and the lower two chambers (the ventricles) that regulate the electrical current that passes through it to the ventricles. Also Atrioventricular Block: An interruption or disturbance of the electrical signal between the heart’s upper two chambers (the atria) and lower two chambers (the ventricles). Also Aortic valve: The valve that regulates blood flow from the heart into the aorta.
AVNRT – Atrioventricular Nodal Re-entry Tachycardia: a heart rhythm problem that happens when there’s an electrical short circuit in the centre of the heart, one of the most common types of SVT, most often seen in people in their twenties and thirties, and more common in women than in men.
BAV – Bicuspid Aortic Valve: The most common malformation of the heart valves in which the aortic valve has only two cusps instead of three.
BB – Beta Blocker: A blood pressure-lowering drug that limits the activity of epinephrine, a hormone that increases blood pressure.
BBB – Bundle Branch Block: – A condition in which parts of the heart’s conduction system are defective and unable to normally conduct the electrical signal, causing an irregular heart rhythm (arrhythmia).
BID – Twice a Day
Bi-ventricular pacemaker also called Cardiac Resynchronization Therapy (CRT): an electronic pacing device that’s surgically implanted in the chest to treat the delay in heart ventricle contractions that occur in some people with heart failure
BMI – Body mass index: A number that doctors use to determine if you’re overweight. BMI is calculated using a formula of weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared (BMI =W [kg]/H [m2]). Click here to figure out your own BMI.
BNP blood test – BNP (B-type Natriuretic Peptide) is a substance secreted from the ventricles or lower chambers of the heart in response to changes in pressure that happen when heart failure develops and/or worsens. The level of BNP in the blood increases when heart failure symptoms worsen, and decreases when the heart failure condition is stable.
BP – Blood Pressure: The force or pressure exerted by the heart in pumping blood; the pressure of blood in the arteries. See also hypertension.
BPM – Beats per minute
Broken Heart Syndrome – See Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy
BrS – Brugada Syndrome: Brugada syndrome is a genetic heart disease that is characterized by distinctively abnormal electrocardiogram (EKG/ECG) findings and an increased risk of sudden cardiac arrest.
Bypass surgery – see CABG
CAA – Coronary artery anomaly: A congenital defect in one or more of the coronary arteries of the heart.
CABG – Coronary Artery Bypass Graft: A surgical procedure that reroutes blood flow around a diseased blood vessel that supplies blood to the heart by grafting either a piece of vein from the leg or the artery from under the breastbone.
CA – Coronary Artery: The arteries arising from the aorta that arch down over the top of the heart and divide into branches. They provide blood to the heart muscle.
CAD – Coronary Artery Disease: A narrowing of the arteries that supply blood to the heart. The condition results from a plaque rupture/blood clot or spasm and greatly increases the risk of a heart attack.
Cardiac Ablation – A procedure performed by an Electrophysiologist (EP) that typically uses catheters — long, flexible tubes inserted through a vein in the groin and threaded to the heart — to correct structural problems in the heart that cause an arrhythmia. Cardiac ablation works by scarring or destroying the tissue in your heart that triggers an abnormal heart rhythm.
Cardiac Arrest – Also known as Sudden Cardiac Arrest: The stopping of the heartbeat, usually because of interference with the electrical signal (often associated with coronary heart disease). Can lead to Sudden Cardiac Death.
Cardiac Catheterization – An invasive procedure in which a catheter is inserted through a blood vessel in the wrist/arm or groin with x-ray guidance. This procedure can help provide information about blood supply through the coronary arteries, blood pressure, blood flow throughout the chambers of the heart, collection of blood samples, and x-rays of the heart’s ventricles or arteries. It’s typically performed in the cath lab during angiography.
Cardiac Perfusion Scan – See MIBI
Cardiac Resynchronization Therapy (CRT) also called bi-ventricular pacemaker: an electronic pacing device that’s surgically implanted in the chest to treat the delay in heart ventricle contractions that occur in some people with heart failure.
Cardiac Tamponade: Pressure on the heart that occurs when blood or fluid builds up in the space between the heart muscle (myocardium) and the outer covering sac of the heart (pericardium). Also called Tamponade.
Cardiomyopathy: a chronic disease of the heart muscle (myocardium), in which the muscle is abnormally enlarged, thickened, and/or stiffened.
Cardioversion – A medical procedure in which an abnormally fast heart rate (tachycardia) or cardiac arrhythmia like atrial fibrillation is converted to a normal rhythm using electricity or drugs. Synchronized electrical cardioversion uses a therapeutic dose of electric current to the heart at a specific moment in the cardiac cycle. Chemical cardioversion uses medications to convert to normal rhythm.
Cath lab – the room in the hospital/medical clinic where cardiac catheterization procedures take place (for example, when a stent is implanted into a blocked coronary artery).
Catheter – a cardiac catheter is a very long thin tube inserted into an artery or vein in your groin (mostly in the U.S.), wrist, or arm – and threaded through blood vessels up to the heart during angiography
CCB – Calcium Channel Blocker: A drug that lowers blood pressure by regulating calcium-related electrical activity in the heart.
CDS – Cardiac Depression Scale: A scale that can help assess the effects of depression occurring as a result of a heart disease diagnosis.
CHF – Heart Failure (also called Congestive Heart Failure): A condition in which the heart cannot pump all the blood returning to it, leading to a backup of blood in the vessels and an accumulation of fluid in the body’s tissues, including the lungs.
CM – Cardiomyopathy: A disease of the heart muscle that leads to generalized deterioration of the muscle and its pumping ability.
CO – Cardiac Output: The amount of blood the heart pumps through the circulatory system in one minute.
Collateral arteries – These extra coronary blood vessels are sometimes able to bypass a blockage in an artery in order to supply enough oxygenated blood to enable the heart muscle to survive when in danger of being damaged because of blockage(s).
Collateral arteries – Blood vessels that provide an alternative arterial supply of blood to an area of the heart that’s in danger of being deprived of oxygenated blood because of one or more blocked arteries.
Congenital heart defect – one of about 35 different types of heart conditions that happen when the heart or the blood vessels near the heart don’t develop normally before a baby is born (in about 1% of live births). Because of medical advances that treat babies born with heart defects, there are now for the first time more adults with congenital heart disease than children.
COPD – Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: A lung disease defined by persistently poor airflow as a result of breakdown of lung tissue (known as emphysema) and dysfunction of the small airways.Often associated with smoking, it typically worsens over time.
Coronary Microvascular Disease – A heart condition that causes impaired blood flow to the heart muscle through the small vessels of the heart. Also called Microvascular Disease or Small Vessel Disease.
Coronary Reactivity Test – An angiography procedure specifically designed to examine the blood vessels in the heart and how they respond to different medications. Physicians use these images to distinguish different types of blood vessel reactivity dysfunction (such as Coronary Microvascular Disease).
Costochondritis– the cause of severe chest pain, but NOT heart-related; it’s an inflammation of the cartilage that connects a rib to the breastbone.
Coumadin – A drug taken to prevent the blood from clotting and to treat blood clots. Coumadin is believed to reduce the risk of blood clots causing strokes or heart attacks. See also Warfarin.
Cox Maze procedure – A complex “cut-and-sew” surgical procedure done to treat atrial fibrillation through a complicated set of incisions made in a maze-like pattern on the left and right atria (the upper chambers of the heart) to permanently interrupt the abnormal electrical signals that are causing the irregular heartbeats of Afib. See also: Mini-Maze.
CP – Chest Pain (may also be felt as squeezing, pressure, fullness, pressure, heaviness, burning or tightness in the chest).
CPR – Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation: An emergency procedure in which the heart and lungs are made to work by manually compressing the chest overlying the heart and forcing air into the lungs, used to maintain circulation when the heart stops pumping during Cardiac Arrest. Current guidelines suggest hands-only CPR. See also AED.
CQ10 – Co-enzyme Q10: A dietary supplement sometimes recommended for heart patients taking statin drugs.
CRP – C-reactive protein: A byproduct of inflammation, produce by the liver, found in the blood in some cases of acute inflammation.
CRT – Cardiac Resynchronization Therapy also called bi-ventricular pacemaker: an electronic pacing device that’s surgically implanted in the chest to treat the delay in heart ventricle contractions that occur in some people with heart failure.
CT – Computed tomography (CT or CAT scan): An x-ray technique that uses a computer to create cross-sectional images of the body.
CTA – Computerized Tomographic Angiogram: An imaging test to look at the arteries that supply the heart muscle with blood. Unlike a traditional coronary angiogram, CT angiograms don’t use a catheter threaded through your blood vessels to your heart but instead rely on a powerful X-ray machine to produce images of your heart and heart vessels.
CV – Coronary Vein: One of the veins of the heart that drain blood from the heart’s muscular tissue and empty into the right atrium.
CV – Cardiovascular: Pertaining to the heart and blood vessels that make up the circulatory system.
DBP – Diastolic blood pressure: The lowest blood pressure measured in the arteries. It occurs when the heart muscle is relaxed between beats.
DCM – Dilated Cardiomyopathy: A disease of the heart muscle, primarily affecting the heart’s main pumping chamber (left ventricle). The left ventricle becomes enlarged (dilated) and can’t pump blood to your body with as much force as a healthy heart can.
DDI – Drug-drug interaction: A situation in which a medication affects the activity of another medication when both are administered together.
DIL – Diltiazem: A calcium channel blocker drug that acts as a vasodilator; used in the treatment of angina pectoris, hypertension, and supraventricular tachycardia.
Diuretic – A class of drugs used to lower blood pressure. Also known as “water pills”.
Dobutamine stress echocardiography: This is a form of a stress echocardiogram diagnostic test. But instead of exercising on a treadmill or exercise bike to stress the heart, the stress is obtained by giving a drug that stimulates the heart and makes it “think” it’s exercising. The test is used to evaluate your heart and valve function if you are unable to exercise. It is also used to determine how well your heart tolerates activity, and your likelihood of having coronary artery disease (blocked arteries), and it can evaluate the effectiveness of your cardiac treatment plan. See also TTE and Stress Echocardiogram.
Dressler’s syndrome – Happens to a small number of people three to four weeks after a heart attack. The heart muscle that died during the attack sets the immune system in motion, calling on lymphocytes, one of the white blood cells, to infiltrate the coverings of the heart (pericardium) and the lungs (pleura). It also starts generating antibodies, which attack those two coverings. Chest pain (CP) is the predominant symptom; treated with anti-inflammatory drugs.
Dual Antiplatelet Therapy – Medications that block the formation of blood clots by preventing the clumping of platelets (examples Plavix, Effient, Brillinta, Ticlid, etc.) are often prescribed along with aspirin as part of what’s known as dual antiplatelet therapy, especially to patients who have undergone PCI and stent implantation.
DVT – Deep Vein Thrombosis: A blood clot in a deep vein in the calf.
EAT – Ectopic Atrial Tachycardia: A type of atrial arrhythmia characterized by fast and regular heart rates ranging from 140–220 bpm
ECG / EKG – Electrocardiogram: A test in which several electronic sensors are placed on the body to monitor electrical activity associated with the heartbeat.
Echocardiogram – A test of the action and functioning of the heart using ultrasound waves to produce a visual display, used for the diagnosis or monitoring of heart disease; a stress echocardiogram adds an exercise component to make the heart beat faster before the echo is recorded. See also: NWMA
EECP – see Enhanced External Counterpulsation
EF – Ejection Fraction: A measurement of blood that is pumped out of a filled ventricle. The normal rate is 50-60%.
EKG/ECG – Electrocardiogram: A test in which several electronic sensors are placed on the body to monitor electrical activity associated with the heartbeat.
Endothelium: A single-cell layer of flat endothelial cells lining the closed internal spaces of the body such as the inside of blood vessels. Endothelial dysfunction affects the ability of these cells to help dilate blood vessels, control inflammation or prevent blood clots. The endothelium is associated with most forms of cardiovascular disease, such as hypertension, coronary artery disease, chronic heart failure, peripheral vascular disease, diabetes, chronic kidney failure, and severe viral infections.
Enhanced External Counterpulsation – EECP is an FDA-approved non-invasive, non-drug treatment for angina. It works by promoting the development of collateral coronary arteries. The therapy is widely used in prominent heart clinics such as the Cleveland Clinic, Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins – especially for patients who are not good candidates for invasive procedures such as bypass surgery, angioplasty or stenting.
EP – Electrophysiologist: A cardiologist who has additional training in diagnosing/treating heart rhythm disorders.
EPS – Electrophysiology Study: A test that uses cardiac catheterization to study patients who have arrhythmias (abnormal hear rhythm). An electrical current stimulates the heart in an effort to provoke an arrhythmia, which is immediately treated with medications. EPS is used primarily to identify the origin of the arrhythmia and to test the effectiveness of medications used to treat abnormal heart rhythms.
EVH – Endoscopic Vessel Harvesting: To create the bypass graft during CABG open heart surgery, a surgeon will remove or “harvest” healthy blood vessels from another part of the body, often from the patient’s leg or arm. This vessel becomes a graft, with one end attaching to a blood source above and the other end below the blocked area. See CABG.
Exercise stress test – An exercise test (walking/running on a treadmill or pedalling a stationary bike) to make your heart work harder and beat faster. An EKG is recorded while you exercise to monitor any abnormal changes in your heart under stress, with or without the aid of drugs to enhance this assessment. See also: MIBI, Echocardiogram, Nuclear Stress Test.
Familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) – A genetic predisposition to dangerously high cholesterol levels. FH is an inherited disorder that can lead to aggressive and premature cardiovascular disease, including problems like heart attacks, strokes, or narrowing of the heart valves.
Femoral Artery: a major artery in your groin/upper thigh area, through which a thin catheter is inserted, eventually making its way into the heart during angioplasty to implant a stent; currently the most widely used angioplasty approach in the United States, but many other countries now prefer the Radial Artery access in the wrist.
FFR – Fractional Flow Reserve: A test used during coronary catheterization (angiogram) to measure pressure differences across a coronary artery stenosis (narrowing or blockage) defined as as the pressure behind a blockage relative to the pressure before the blockage.
FH – see Familial hypercholesteremia (above)
GTN – Glyceryl trinitrate: See Nitroglycerin or NTG
HC – High Cholesterol: When fatty deposits build up in your coronary arteries.
HCM – Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy: A heart condition that damages the muscle wall of the lower chambers of the heart and causes them to thicken abnormally. HCM is perhaps best known as a leading cause of sudden cardiac death in young athletes. (Also HOCM: Hypertrophic Obstructive Cardiomyopathy)
HCTZ – Hydrochlorothiazide: A drug used to lower blood pressure; it acts by inhibiting the kidneys’ ability to retain water. Used to be called “water pills”.
HDL – High Density Lipoprotein: A component of cholesterol, HDL helps protect against heart disease by promoting cholesterol breakdown and removal from the blood; hence, its nickname “good cholesterol.”
Heart Attack – The damage or death of an area of the heart muscle (myocardium) resulting from a blocked blood supply to the area. The affected tissue dies, injuring the heart. Also Myocardial Infarction, MI)
Heart Failure – see CFH – Congestive Heart Failure
Holiday Heart – See Paroxysmal Atrial Fibrillation
Holter Monitor – A portable monitoring device that patients wear for recording heartbeats over a period of 24 hours or more.
HTN – Hypertension: High blood pressure, the force of blood pushing against the walls of arteries as it flows through them.
Hypertension (HTN): High blood pressure, the force of blood pushing against the walls of arteries as it flows through them. Also BP
Hypokinesia – Decreased heart wall motion during each heartbeat, associated with cardiomyopathy, heart failure, or heart attack. Hypokinesia can involve small areas of the heart (segmental) or entire sections of heart muscle (global). Also called hypokinesis.
ICD – Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator: A surgically implanted electronic device to treat life-threatening heartbeat irregularities.
IHD – Ischemic Heart Disease: heart problems caused by narrowing of the coronary arteries, causing a decreased blood supply to the heart muscle. Also called coronary artery disease and coronary heart disease.
Inferior Vena Cava – a large vein carrying de-oxygenated blood from the lower body into the right atrium of the heart. See also Superior Vena Cava
INR – International Normalized Ratio: A laboratory test measure of blood coagulation, often used as a standard for monitoring the effects of the anti-coagulant drug, warfarin (coumadin).
IST – Inappropriate sinus tachycardia: A heart condition seen most often in young women, in which a person’s resting heart rate is abnormally high (greater than 100 bpm), their heart rate increases rapidly with minimal exertion, and this rapid heart rate is accompanied by symptoms of palpitations, fatigue, and exercise intolerance.
Interventional cardiologist – A cardiologist who is trained to perform invasive heart procedures like angiography, angioplasty, percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI), implanting stents, etc.
IVS – Interventricular Septum: The stout wall that separates the lower chambers (the ventricles) of the heart from one another.
IVUS – Intravascular Ultrasound: A form of echocardiography performed during cardiac catheterization in which a transducer is threaded into the heart blood vessels via a catheter; it’s used to provide detailed information about the blockage inside the blood vessels.
LAD – Left Anterior Descending coronary artery: One of the heart’s coronary artery branches from the left main coronary artery which supplies blood to the left ventricle.
LAFB – Left Anterior Fascicular Block: A cardiac condition,distinguished from Left Bundle Branch Block because only the anterior half of the left bundle branch is defective and more common than left posterior fascicular block.
LAHB – Left Anterior Hemiblock: The Left Bundle Branch divides into two major branches – the anterior and the posterior fascicles. Occasionally, a block can occur in one of these fascicles.
LBBB – Left Bundle Branch Block: A heart arrhythmia in which activation of the left ventricle is delayed which causes the left ventricle to contract later than the right ventricle. See also Right Bundle Branch Block and LAFB
LDL – Low Density Lipoprotein: The body’s primary cholesterol-carrying molecule. High blood levels of LDL may increase your risk of heart disease by promoting cholesterol attachment and accumulation in blood vessels; often called “bad cholesterol.”
Left Circumflex Artery – The artery carries oxygenated blood from the heart to the body; it’s a branch of the Left Main Coronary Artery after the latter runs its course in between the aorta and the Main Pulmonary Artery.
Left Main Coronary Artery – The artery that branches from the aorta to supply oxygenated blood to the heart via the Left Anterior Descending Artery (LAD) and the Left Circumflex Artery.
Lipoprotein-a or Lp(a) – molecules made of proteins and fat, carrying cholesterol and similar substances through the blood. A high level of Lp(a) is considered a risk factor for heart disease; detectable via a blood test.
Long QT syndrome (LQTS): A heart rhythm disorder that can potentially cause fast, chaotic heartbeats that may trigger a sudden fainting spell or seizure. In some cases, the heart may beat erratically for so long that it can cause sudden death.
LOS – length of stay in hospital (also PLOS: postoperative length of stay)
LQTS – see Long QT syndrome
LV – Left Ventricle – One of four chambers (two atria and two ventricles) in the human heart, it receives oxygenated blood from the left atrium via the mitral valve, and pumps it into the aorta via the aortic valve.
LVAD – Left ventricular assist device: A mechanical device that can be placed outside the body or implanted inside the body. An LVAD does not replace the heart – it “assists” or “helps” it pump oxygen-rich blood from the left ventricle to the rest of the body, usually as a bridge to heart transplant.
LVH – Left Ventricular Hypertrophy: A thickening of the myocardium (muscle) of the Left Ventricle (LV) of the heart..
Lumen – The hollow area within a tube, such as a blood vessel.
Main Pulmonary Artery – Carries oxygen-depleted blood from the heart to the lungs.
MI – Myocardial Infarction or heart attack. The damage or death of an area of the heart muscle (myocardium) resulting from a blocked blood supply to the area. The affected tissue dies, injuring the heart. (Also: Mitral Insufficiency or Mitral Incompetence- see Mitral Regurgitation)
MIBI – Nuclear Stress Test/Cardiac Perfusion Scan/Sestamibi: tests that are used to assess the blood flow to the heart muscle (myocardium) when it is stressed by exercise or medication, and to find out what areas of the myocardium have decreased blood flow due to coronary artery disease. This is done by injecting a tiny amount of radionuclide like thallium or technetium (chemicals which emit a type of radioactivity called gamma rays) into a vein in the arm or hand.
Microvascular disease – a heart condition that causes impaired blood flow to the heart muscle through the small vessels of the heart. Symptoms mimic those of a heart attack. Also called Coronary Microvascular Disease or Small Vessel Disease. I live with this diagnosis and have written more about it here, here and here.
Mini-Maze – a surgical procedure to treat atrial fibrillation, less invasive than what’s called the Cox Maze III procedure (a “cut-and-sew” procedure), and performed on a beating heart without opening the chest.
Mitral Valve: One of four valves in the heart, the structure that controls blood flow between the heart’s left atrium (upper chamber) and left ventricle (lower chamber). The mitral valve has two flaps (cusps). See also MV and/or Valves.
MR – Mitral regurgitation: (also mitral insufficiency or mitral incompetence) a heart condition in which the mitral valve does not close properly when the heart pumps out blood. It’s the abnormal leaking of blood from the left ventricle, through the mitral valve and into the left atrium when the left ventricle contracts.
MRI – Magnetic Resonance Imaging: A technique that produces images of the heart and other body structures by measuring the response of certain elements (such as hydrogen) in the body to a magnetic field. An MRI can produce detailed pictures of the heart and its various structures without the need to inject a dye.
MS – Mitral Stenosis: A narrowing of the mitral valve, which controls blood flow from the heart’s upper left chamber (the left atrium) to its lower left chamber (the left ventricle). May result from an inherited (congenital) problem or from rheumatic fever.
MUGA – Multiple-Gated Acquisition Scanning: A non-invasive nuclear test that uses a radioactive isotope called technetium to evaluate the functioning of the heart’s ventricles.
Murmur – Noises superimposed on normal heart sounds. They are caused by congenital defects or damaged heart valves that do not close properly and allow blood to leak back into the originating chamber.
MV – Mitral Valve: The structure that controls blood flow between the heart’s left atrium (upper chamber) and left ventricle (lower chamber).
MVD – Microvascular Disease: A condition in which the small arteries in the heart become narrowed. Small vessel disease causes signs and symptoms of heart disease, such as chest pain (angina). Small vessel disease is sometimes called coronary microvascular disease or small vessel heart disease. Also called Small Vessel Disease or Coronary Microvascular Disease
MVP – Mitral Valve Prolapse: A condition that occurs when the leaflets of the mitral valve between the left atrium (upper chamber) and left ventricle (lower chamber) bulge into the atrium and permit backflow of blood into the atrium. The condition is often associated with progressive mitral regurgitation. Also MVPS: Mitral Valve Prolapse Syndrome
MVR – Mitral Valve Regurgitation: Failure of the mitral valve to close properly, causing blood to flow back into the heart’s upper left chamber (the left atrium) instead of moving forward into the lower left chamber (the left ventricle). or Mitral Valve Repair (aka MR)
Myocardial Infarction (MI, heart attack) – The damage or death of an area of the heart muscle (myocardium) resulting from a blocked blood supply to the area. The affected tissue dies, injuring the heart.
Myocardium – The muscular tissue of the heart.
New Wall-Motion Abnormalities – Results seen on an echocardiogram test report (see NWMA, below).
Nitroglycerin – A medicine that helps relax and dilate arteries; often used to treat cardiac chest pain (angina). Also called NTG or GTN.
NSR – Normal Sinus Rhythm: The characteristic rhythm of the healthy human heart. NSR is considered to be present if the heart rate is in the normal range, the P waves are normal on the EKG/ECG, and the rate does not vary significantly.
NSTEMI – Non-ST-segment-elevation myocardial infarction: The milder form of the two main types of heart attack. An NSTEMI heart attack does not produce an ST-segment elevation seen on an electrocardiogram test (EKG). See also STEMI.
NTG – See Nitroglycerin
Nuclear Stress Test – A diagnostic test that usually involves two exercise stress tests, one while you’re exercising on a treadmill/stationary bike or with medication that stresses your heart, and another set while you’re at rest. A nuclear stress test is used to gather information about how well your heart works during physical activity and at rest. See also: Exercise stress test, Nuclear perfusion test, MIBI.
NWMA – Seen on an echocardiogram test report, meaning: “new wall-motion abnormalities”. A study published in the journal Circulation reported: “If an echocardiogram shows no clear diagnosis of cardiovascular disease but does show a wall-motion abnormality, that can identify individuals who are at increased risk and probably have underlying coronary artery disease.”
Open heart surgery – Any surgery in which the chest is opened and surgery is done on the heart muscle, valves, coronary arteries, or other parts of the heart (such as the aorta). See also CABG.
Pacemaker – A surgically implanted electronic device that helps regulate the heartbeat.
PAD – Peripheral Artery Disease: A common circulatory problem in which narrowed arteries reduce blood flow to the limbs, usually to the legs. Symptoms include leg pain when walking (called intermittent claudication).
PAF – Paroxysmal Atrial Fibrillation: Atrial fibrillation that lasts from a few seconds to days, then stops on its own. See also Atrial Fibrillation.
Palpitations – A noticeably rapid, strong, or irregular heartbeat due to agitation, exertion or illness.
Paroxysmal Atrial Fibrillation – An unusual heart arrhythmia of unknown origin, at one time believed to be associated with an unusual sensitivity to alcohol consumption.
Patent ductus arteriosus: see PDA
PCI – Percutaneous Coronary Intervention (or angiography): Any of the procedures usually performed in the cardiac catheterization laboratory (also called the cath lab). Angioplasty is an example of a percutaneous coronary intervention. Also called a transcatheter intervention or Percutaneous Transluminal Coronary Angioplasty (PTCA)
PDA – patent ductus arteriosus: A persistent opening between two major blood vessels leading from the heart. The opening is called ductus arteriosus and is a normal part of a baby’s circulatory system before birth that usually closes shortly after birth. But when it remains open, it’s called a patent ductus arteriosus. If it’s small, it may never need treatment, but a large PDA left untreated can allow poorly oxygenated blood to flow in the wrong direction, weakening the heart muscle and causing heart failure or other complications.
Pericardium: the outer covering sac of the heart
PET – Positron Emission Tomography: A non-invasive scanning technique that uses small amounts of radioactive positrons (positively charged particles) to visualize body function and metabolism. In cardiology, PET scans are used to evaluate heart muscle function in patients with coronary artery disease or cardiomyopathy.
PFO – Patent Forman Ovale: An opening between the left and right atria (the upper chambers) of the heart. Everyone has a PFO before birth, but in 1 out of every 3 or 4 people, the opening does not close naturally as it should after birth.
Plaque – A deposit of fatty (and other) substances in the inner lining of the artery wall; it is characteristic of atherosclerosis.
PLOS – postoperative length of stay in hospital (see also LOS: length of stay)
POTS – Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome: A disorder that causes an increased heart rate when a person stands upright.
PPCM – Post-partum cardiomyopathy: A form of cardiomyopathy that causes heart failure toward the end of pregnancy or in the months after delivery, in the absence of any other cause of heart failure.
Preeclampsia – a late-pregnancy complication identified by spikes in blood pressure, protein in the urine, possible vision problems. Women who experience pregnancy complications like preeclampsia are at significantly higher risk for heart disease.
Prinzmetal’s Variant Angina – Chest pain caused by a spasm in a coronary artery that supplies blood to the heart muscle.
PRN – “As needed” – from the Latin “pro re nata” meaning “as the circumstance arises” (used when medications are being prescribed to patients, not at specified times, but only when you need them)
PSVT – Paroxysmal Supraventricular Tachycardia: – An occasional rapid heart rate (150-250 beats per minute) that is caused by events triggered in areas above the heart’s lower chambers (the ventricles). “Paroxysmal” means from time to time. See also supraventricular tachycardia (SVT).
PTCA – Percutaneous Transluminal Coronary Angioplasty: See Angioplasty
Pulmonary Valve: One of the four valves in the heart, located between the pulmonary artery and the right ventricle of the heart, moves blood toward the lungs and keeps it from sloshing back into the heart.
PV – Pulmonary Vein: A vein carrying oxygenated blood from the lungs to the left atrium of the heart.
PVC – Premature Ventricular Contraction: An early or extra heartbeat that happens when the heart’s lower chambers (the ventricles) contract too soon, out of sequence with the normal heartbeat. In the absence of any underlying heart disease, PVCs do not generally indicate a problem with electrical stability, and are usually benign.
QD – Every day
QID – Four times a day
RA – Right Atrium: The right upper chamber of the heart. The right atrium receives de-oxygenated blood from the body through the vena cava and pumps it into the right ventricle which then sends it to the lungs to be oxygenated.
Radial Artery: the artery in the wrist where a thin catheter is inserted through the body’s network of arteries in the arm and eventually into the heart during a procedure to implant a stent. Doctors may also call this transradial access, the transradial approach, or transradial angioplasty. Because it’s associated with fewer complications, this is increasingly considered the default access approach in many countries, except in the U.S. where the traditional Femoral Artery (groin) approach is still used.
RBBB – Right Bundle Branch Block: A delay or obstruction along the pathway that electrical impulses travel to make your heart beat. The delay or blockage occurs on the pathway that sends electrical impulses to the right side of your heart. See also Left Bundle Branch Block.
RCA – Right Coronary Artery: An artery that supplies blood to the right side of the heart.
Restenosis – The re-closing or re-narrowing of an artery after an interventional procedure such as angioplasty or stent placement. Sometimes called “stent failure”.
RHD – Rheumatic Heart Disease: Permanent damage to the valves of the heart caused especially by repeated attacks of rheumatic fever.
RM – Right Main coronary artery: A blood vessel that supplies oxygenated blood to the walls of the heart’s ventricles and the right atrium.
RV – Right Ventricle: The lower right chamber of the heart that receives de-oxygenated blood from the right atrium and pumps it under low pressure into the lungs via the pulmonary artery.
SA – Sinus node: The “natural” pacemaker of the heart. The node is a group of specialized cells in the top of the right atrium which produces the electrical impulses that travel down to eventually reach the ventricular muscle, causing the heart to contract.
SB – Sinus Bradycardia: Abnormally slow heartbeat.
SBP – Systolic Blood Pressure: The highest blood pressure measured in the arteries. It occurs when the heart contracts with each heartbeat. Example: the first number in 120/80.
SCAD – Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection: A rare emergency condition that occurs when a tear forms in one of the blood vessels in the heart, causing a heart attack, abnormalities in heart rhythm and/or sudden death. SCAD tends to strike young healthy women with few if any cardiac risk factors.
SCD – Sudden Cardiac Death: Death as a result of Cardiac Arrest
SD – Septal defect: A hole in the wall of the heart separating the atria (two upper chambers of the heart) or in the wall of the heart separating the ventricles (two lower chambers).
Sestamibi stress test – See MIBI.
Short QT intervals (SQT): An abnormal heart rhythm where the heart muscle takes a shorter time to recharge between beats. It can cause a variety of complications from fainting and dizziness to sudden cardiac arrest.
Sinoatrial node: also commonly called the sinus node; it’s a small bundle of neurons situated in the upper part of the wall of the right atrium (the right upper chamber of the heart). The heart’s electrical impulses are generated there. It’s the normal natural pacemaker of the heart and is responsible for the initiation of the heartbeat.
SOB – Shortness of breath
Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD) – A rare emergency condition that occurs when a tear forms in one of the blood vessels in the heart, causing a heart attack, abnormalities in heart rhythm and/or sudden death. SCAD tends to strike young healthy women with few if any cardiac risk factors.
Small Vessel Disease – See Microvascular Disease
Spasm – see Vasospasm.
SQT – see Short QT intervals
SSS – Sick Sinus Syndrome: The failure of the sinus node to regulate the heart’s rhythm.
ST – Sinus Tachycardia: A heart rhythm with elevated rate of impulses originating from the sinoatrial node, defined as greater than 100 beats per minute (bpm) in an average adult. The normal heart rate in the average adult ranges from 60–100 bpm. Also called sinus tach or sinus tachy.
Statins – Any of a class of drugs that lower the levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDL) – the ‘bad’ cholesterol in the blood – by inhibiting the activity of an enzyme involved in the production of cholesterol in the liver. Examples of brand name statins: Lipitor, Crestor, Zocor, Mevacor, Levachol, Lescol, etc.)
STEMI – ST-segment-elevation heart attack (myocardial infarction). The more severe form of the two main types of heart attack. A STEMI produces a characteristic elevation in the ST segment on an electrocardiogram (EKG). The elevated ST segment is how this type of heart attack got its name. See also NSTEMI.
Stenosis – a narrowing of a passage in the body. See Aortic Stenosis
Stent – An implantable device made of expandable, metal mesh (looks a bit like a tiny chicken wire tube) that is placed (by using a balloon catheter) at the site of a narrowing coronary artery during an angioplasty procedure. The stent is then expanded and left in place to keep the artery open. TRIVIA ALERT: the coronary stent was named after Charles Stent (1807-1885), an English dentist who invented a compound to produce dentures and other things like skin grafts and hollow tubes (essentially what a metal coronary stent is). His real claim to fame occurred when he suggested using his material to coat underwater trans-Atlantic cable, which had broken several times as a result of corrosion by seawater. You’re welcome.
Stint – a common spelling mistake when what you really mean is the word “stent” (see above).
Stress test – A diagnostic test meant to assess the effects of exercise on the heart’s ability to function. See also: Nuclear Stress Test, MIBI, Exercise Stress Test, Stress Echocardiogram,
Stress Echocardiography – A standard echocardiogram test that’s performed while the person exercises on a treadmill or stationary bicycle. This test can be used to visualize the motion of the heart’s walls and pumping action when the heart is stressed, possibly revealing a lack of blood flow that isn’t always apparent on other heart tests. The echocardiogram is performed just before and just after the exercise part of the procedure. See also TTE.
Sudden Cardiac Arrest – The stopping of the heartbeat, usually because of interference with the electrical signal (often associated with coronary heart disease). Can lead to Sudden Cardiac Death.
Superior Vena Cava – large vein carrying blood from the head, arms, and upper body to the right atrium of the heart. Sometimes called precava. See also Inferior Vena Cava
SVT – Supraventricular Tachycardia: An occasional rapid heart rate (150-250 beats per minute) that is caused by events triggered in areas above the heart’s lower chambers (the ventricles); see also paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (PSVT). Also: Sustained Ventricular Tachycardia
Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy – A heart condition that can mimic a heart attack. Sometimes called Broken Heart Syndrome, it is not a heart attack, but it feels just like one, with common symptoms like severe chest pain and shortness of breath. It often follows a severe emotional stress. Prognosis is usually good, and recurrence occurs in fewer than 10% of patients. Also referred to as Broken Heart Syndrome, stress cardiomyopathy, stress-induced cardiomyopathy or apical ballooning syndrome.
Tamponade – see Cardiac Tamponade
TAVI – Transcatheter aortic valve implantation: A minimally invasive procedure to repair a damaged or diseased aortic valve. A catheter is inserted into an artery in the groin and threaded to the heart. A balloon at the end of the catheter, with a replacement valve folded around it, delivers the new valve to take the place of the old. Also called TAVR (Transcatheter aortic valve replacement).
Tetralogy of Fallot – A rare condition caused by a combination of four heart defects that are present at birth, affecting the structure of the heart and causing oxygen-poor blood to flow out of the heart and into the rest of the body. Infants and children with Tetralogy of Fallot usually have blue-tinged skin because their blood doesn’t carry enough oxygen. Often diagnosed in infancy, but sometimes not until later in life depending on severity.
Tg – Triglycerides: The most common fatty substance found in the blood; normally stored as an energy source in fat tissue. High triglyceride levels may thicken the blood and make a person more susceptible to clot formation. High triglyceride levels tend to accompany high cholesterol levels and other risk factors for heart disease, such as obesity.
Thallium Stress Test – See Nuclear Stress Test
TIA – Transient Ischemic Attack: A stroke-like event that lasts only for a short time and is caused by a temporarily blocked blood vessel.
TID – Three times a day
TEE – Transesophageal echocardiogram: This test involves an ultrasound transducer inserted down the throat into the esophagus in order to take clear images of the heart structures without the interference of the lungs and chest.
Treadmill Stress Test – See Exercise Stress Test.
Tricuspid Valve – One of four valves in the heart, a valve with three little flaps that keeps blood in the right ventricle from flowing back into the right atrium. See also Valves
TTE – Transthoracic Echocardiogram: This is the standard echocardiogram, a painless test similar to X-ray, but without the radiation, using a hand-held device called a transducer placed on the chest to transmit high frequency sound waves (ultrasound). These sound waves bounce off the heart structures, producing images and sounds that can be used by the doctor to detect heart damage and disease.
TV – Tricuspid Valve: One of four one-way valves in the heart, a structure that controls blood flow from the heart’s upper right chamber (the right atrium) into the lower right chamber (the right ventricle).
UA or USA – Unstable Angina: Chest pain that occurs when diseased blood vessels restrict blood flow to the heart; symptoms are not relieved by rest; considered a dangerous and emergency crisis requiring immediate medical help.
Valves: Your heart has four one-way valves that keep blood flowing in the right direction. Blood enters the heart first through the tricuspid valve, and next goes through the pulmonary valve (sometimes called the pulmonic valve) on its way to the lungs. Then the blood returning from the lungs passes through the mitral (bicuspid) valve and leaves the heart through the aortic valve. See diagram below.
Vasodilator: A drug that causes dilation (widening) of blood vessels.
Vasospasm: A blood vessel spasm that causes sudden constriction, reducing its diameter and blood flow to the heart muscle. See also Prinzmetal’s Variant Angina.
VB – Ventricular Bigeminy: A heart rhythm condition in which the heart experiences two beats of the pulse in rapid succession.
Vena Cava – a large vein that carryies de-oxygenated blood into the heart. There are two in humans, the inferior vena cava (carrying blood from the lower body) and the superior vena cava (carrying blood from the head, arms, and upper body).
Ventricle – each of the two main chambers of the heart, left and right.
VF – Ventricular Fibrillation: A condition in which the ventricles (two lower chambers of the heart) contract in a rapid, unsynchronized fashion. When fibrillation occurs, the ventricles cannot pump blood throughout the body. Most sudden cardiac deaths are caused by VF or ventricular tachycardia (VT).
VLDL – Very Low Density Lipoprotein: Molecules made up of mostly triglycerides, cholesterol and proteins. VLDL, also known as the “very bad” cholesterol, carries cholesterol from the liver to organs and tissues in the body. It may lead to low density lipoproteins (LDL), associated with higher heart disease risks. VLDL levels are tricky to measure routinely, and are usually estimated as a percentage of your triglyceride levels. By reducing triglycerides, you are usually also reducing your VLDL levels.
VT or VTach – Ventricular Tachycardia: An arrhythmia (abnormal heartbeat) in the ventricle usually seen as a very fast heartbeat. Most sudden cardiac deaths are caused by ventricular tachycardia (VT) or ventricular fibrillation (VF)
Warfarin – A drug taken to prevent the blood from clotting and to treat blood clots. Warfarin is believed to reduce the risk of blood clots causing strokes or heart attacks. Also known as Coumadin.
Widowmaker heart attack – The type of heart attack I survived, since you asked. A nickname doctors use to describe a severely blocked left main coronary artery or proximal left anterior descending coronary artery of the heart. This term is used because if the artery gets abruptly and completely blocked, it can cause a massive heart attack that will likely lead to sudden cardiac death. Please note the gender imbalance here: despite the number of women like me who do experience this type of cardiac event, doctors aren’t calling this the widowermaker, after all.
WPW – Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome: A condition in which an extra electrical pathway connects the atria (two upper chambers) and the ventricles (two lower chambers). It may cause a rapid heartbeat.
Yamaguchi Syndrome, Yamaguchi Hypertrophy – see A-HCM
Sources: Cleveland Clinic, Heart and Stroke Foundation, Texas Heart Institute, Ottawa Heart Institute, Mayo Clinic, UpToDate®
Are we missing any important heart acronyms/terms from this list? Let me know!
Revised January 27, 2016