Glossary of Terms

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: January 2024

Cardiovascular disease (CVD), or heart disease, is one of the most common health conditions and causes of death worldwide. Use this glossary of heart disease terms to understand the condition more fully so you can take preventive measures for your health.

A

Angina

Chest pain or discomfort caused by reduced blood flow to the heart.1-4

Angioplasty

A medical procedure to widen narrowed or blocked blood vessels. A balloon-like device is used to open up the vessel so blood clots are less likely to form.2

Aorta

The largest artery in the body. It carries oxygenated blood from the heart to the rest of the body.1,2

Arrhythmia

Abnormal heart rhythm. Arrhythmias can be either too fast, too slow, or irregular.1,3,4

Atherosclerosis

The buildup of plaque (fat, cholesterol, and other substances) in the arteries. This buildup restricts blood flow to the rest of the body.1,3,4

Atrial fibrillation (AFib)

An irregular and often rapid heartbeat, starting in the upper chambers (atria) of the heart. AFib is the most common type of arrhythmia.1,2

Atrium

Upper chambers of the heart – there is one on the left and one on the right side of the heart. The atrium receives blood from the veins and then pumps it into one of the heart’s 2 lower chambers (left and right ventricle).2

B

Blood pressure

The force of blood in the arteries. Blood pressure is measured in 2 ways: systolic (when the heart beats) and diastolic (when the heart is at rest).2-4

C

Cardiac arrest

Sudden and unexpected loss of heart function. During cardiac arrest, the flow of blood stops. Cardiac arrest may lead to death if not treated immediately with CPR and/or medicine.1,3,4

Cardiac catheterization

An invasive medical procedure that uses a catheter to diagnose and treat heart conditions with stents. It often involves the injection of contrast dye for imaging.2,4

Cardiologist

A medical doctor specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of heart-related conditions.2,4

Cardiomyopathy

Disease of the heart muscle that can lead to heart failure. It is often characterized by an enlarged, thickened, or stiffened heart.1,4

Cardiothoracic surgeon

A medical doctor who performs surgical procedures involving the heart, lungs, and blood vessels. These surgeries include coronary artery bypass, heart valve repair or replacement, and lung surgeries.2

Cardiovascular

Relating to the heart and blood vessels as a whole.4

Catheter

A flexible tube that is inserted into blood vessels to help with medical procedures.2,4

Cholesterol

Fatty substances in the blood. High levels of bad or abnormal cholesterol can lead to problems like coronary artery disease and atherosclerosis.4

Comorbidity

The presence of 1 or more health conditions alongside a primary condition. Common comorbidities of heart disease are diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).5

Coronary artery disease (CAD)

Narrowing or blockage of the coronary arteries, which leads to reduced blood flow to the heart.1-4

D

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)

When a blood clot forms in a deep vein, usually in the legs. This can lead to serious medical problems if left untreated.4

E

Echocardiogram

An ultrasound test used to visualize the heart. It uses sound waves to create a moving picture of the heart's structure and function. It does not diagnose blockages of the heart arteries.2

Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)

A test that records the electrical activity of the heart to evaluate its rhythm and detect abnormalities.2

H

Heart attack (myocardial infarction)

Damage to the heart muscle due to a lack of blood supply. It is often caused by a blood clot inside an artery.2-4

Heart failure

The inability of the heart to pump blood efficiently. This leads to a decrease in oxygenated blood and nutrients reaching the rest of the body.1-4

Hyperlipidemia

High cholesterol, or elevated levels of fats (lipids) in the blood. It is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.6

Hypertension

A condition in which blood pressure is too high for too long. It is also called high blood pressure.1-4

I

Ischemic

Lack of blood flow to the heart, often due to a narrowed or blocked artery.2,3

Implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD)

A medical device implanted in the chest to monitor and regulate heart rhythms. It delivers electrical shocks to restore normal rhythm in the event of life-threatening arrhythmias.4,7

L

Lipids

Fats and fatty substances, including cholesterol, that are carried in the blood.4

M

Myocardial infarction

See “heart attack.”

P

Pacemaker

A small device implanted in the chest to regulate the heart's rhythm with electrical impulses.2,4

Peripheral artery disease (PAD)

Narrowing of the arteries outside of the heart. PAD usually affects the legs and sometimes the arms. It is typically a result of plaque buildup.8

Plaque

Deposits of fat, cholesterol, and other substances that build up in the arteries.1,3,4

Pulmonary

Relating to the lungs and the respiratory system.4

R

Rheumatic heart disease

Damage to the heart caused by rheumatic fever. The damage often stems from an untreated respiratory infection.1,2,4

Risk factors

Factors that increase the likelihood of developing a condition. Risk factors for cardiovascular disease include smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes.5,6,8

S

Stent

A small tube placed in a narrowed or blocked artery to help keep it open and improve blood flow.4

Stress test

A test used to help diagnose severe blockages of the heart arteries. The test can be done on a treadmill or with medicine if you cannot exercise. It can involve taking pictures of the heart under a camera.2,4

Stroke

Sudden interruption of blood flow to the brain. Strokes are often caused by a blood clot or burst blood vessel.3,4

V

Valve

A flap-like structure inside the heart between the chambers of the heart that ensures blood flows in only 1 direction, preventing backward flow.1,2,4

Varicose veins

Enlarged, twisted veins, usually in the legs, caused by weakened valves that fail to prevent backward blood flow.2

Vascular

Relating to the blood vessels, including arteries, veins, and capillaries.4

Ventricles

The 2 lower chambers of the heart (one on the left and one on the right side of the heart). The right ventricle pumps blood to the lungs, and the left ventricle pumps blood to the rest of the body.2,4

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