Glossary of Words Related to Heart Disease

A comprehensive guide to common cardiac terminology.


A technique that prevents pain during surgery and medical procedures.

Angina pectoris

A discomfort experienced when the heart muscle does not receive sufficient blood supply. It may consist of heaviness in the chest, a burning sensation or discomfort in the left arm, and in some cases a pain in the left jaw.


(see cardiac catherization)

Angioplasty (or balloon angioplasty)

This procedure involves passing a catheter with a balloon into the artery. The balloon is then expanded in the artery to eliminate narrow areas in the coronary arteries.


Blood-thinning medications, or anticoagulants, inhibit blood from clotting. Examples include aspirin, coumadin® and heparin.


The aorta is the main blood vessel leading from the heart to the rest of the body.

Aortic valve

The aortic valve is the outflow valve for the left ventricle. It opens when the ventricle squeezes blood out and then closes to keep blood from leaking back into the ventricle.

Atrial fibrillation (a-fib)

A-fib occurs when the atrium contracts irregularly, or with one portion contracting well before or after another. When this happens the atrium cannot push blood into the ventricles in the normal manner and your heart may feel like it is racing.

Atrial septal defect (ASD)

ASD is an abnormal hole in the wall between the right and left atrium.


On each side of the heart there is an upper, low-pressure chamber that collects blood from the veins and delivers it to the ventricles, the main pumping chambers of the heart. These upper chambers are called the atria (plural) or atrium (singular).

Cardiac catheterization (cath)

A cath is a procedure that passes a catheter in a blood vessel via veins in the groin or arm and then guided to the heart. A dye (contrast material visible on X-Ray) is injected in the catheter to determine whether blockages or narrowing is present in the arteries and to measure how well the heart valves and muscle function.


Cardiologists are physicians who specialize in diseases of the heart.

Cardiothoracic surgeon

Cardiothoracic surgeons are surgeons who undergo specialized training in surgery of the heart, lungs esophagus and other structures of the chest.


A catheter is a narrow tube that is passed inside blood vessels to the heart for diagnostic and treatment purposes.

Chest drainage tubes

These tubes are inserted during surgery and are used to drain excess blood or fluid.


Abnormalities present at birth are considered congenital.

Coronary arteries

The arteries on the surface of the heart that provide blood flow to the heart muscle itself.

Coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG)

To improve blood flow to the heart, bypasses are created around the obstructions in the coronary arteries with arteries or veins from elsewhere in the body.

Coronary artery disease

A narrowing or "stenosis" of the blood vessels to the heart that results in inadequate blood flow to the heart muscle itself.


A commonly used anticoagulant.

Echocardiogram (ECHO)

A sound wave picture of the heart that gives information about the heart valves and the function of the muscular walls of the heart.

Echocardiography Laboratory

This diagnostic laboratory houses the region's only computerized, digital equipment for three-dimensional rest and exercise echocardiography ('stress echo'), which allows stress echo results to be transmitted to any site on earth for instantaneous peer consultation. In addition, the pediatric echocardiography laboratory specializes in fetal sonography and the diagnosis of congenital heart disease.

Electrocardiogram (EKG)

A non-invasive test graphically showing how the electrical impulses flow through the heart. Abnormalities may indicate that a heart attack has occurred in the past.

Endotracheal tube (ETT)

Inserted into the windpipe through your mouth, the ETT is attached to the ventilator that breathes for you during surgery.

Foley catheter

Drains urine from the bladder. The catheter is inserted through the urethra.

Health Care Proxy/Living Will

Formal documents written in advance of serious illness that state your choices for health-care, or name someone to make those choices if you become unable to make decisions.

Heart attack

A heart attack, also known as a myocardial infarction, occurs when the heart does not get enough blood flow leading to the death of the heart muscle.

Heart failure

A degenerative condition that occurs when the heart muscle weakens and the ventricle no longer contracts normally. As a result, the heart can no longer pump enough blood to the body.

Heart-Lung Machine

When the heart is stopped during surgery, the heart-lung machine mechanically pumps blood, oxygen and nutrients to the body.

Heart monitor

This monitor records your heart rate and rhythm through sticky pads (electrodes) placed on your chest.


A medical term for high blood pressure. Incentive Spirometer A device to measure your progress in taking deep breaths.

Informed consent

A form signed by the patient before surgery, after discussing risks and benefits with the doctors.

Internal mammary artery

This artery is on the inside of the chest wall and is commonly used for bypass grafting.

Intravenous (IV) lines

IV lines provide nutrition, medication or blood directly into the body through an IV line inserted under the skin.


This term refers to the state of not having enough oxygen-rich blood flow delivered to the heart muscle.

MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)

The Heart Institute's two state-of-the-art MRI units provide high-resolution images which allow cardiologists to distinguish normal from abnormal heart muscle, and to assess cardiac structure and function in patients with acquired and congenital heart disease.

Mechanical valves

Artificial valves made from metal, plastic, and/or pyrolytic carbon.

Median sternotomy

The incision traditionally used for heart surgery in which the sternum or breast bone is divided down the middle from top to bottom.

Minimally invasive heart surgery

A variety of approaches using smaller incisions to reduce the trauma of surgery and speed recovery

Mitral valve

The mitral valve is the inflow valve for the left ventricle. It closes when the ventricle squeezes blood out to the body and then opens to let more blood into the ventricle.

Myocardial infraction

(see heart attack)

Off pump or beating heart surgery

Heart surgery without the use of the heart-lung machine.

Pacemaker and Defibrillator Implant Center

State-of-the-art techniques for regulation of arrhythmia control devices are provided in an operating room environment by a cooperative group of cardiac surgeons and cardiologists. Specialties include ambulatory surgery for selected patients and transvenous pacemakers for infants and children. This Center boasts world-leading morbidity and mortality statistics.

Pacemaker wires

These temporary wires permit your doctor to adjust your heart rate when needed during and after surgery.

Pacemaker and Defibrillator Implant Center

PET (Positron Emission Tomography) Center

The Heart Institute is New York's leader in PET imaging. This unique tool precisely yet non-invasively measures biochemistry and physiology of the heart muscle, and is used to identify appropriate candidates for coronary artery bypass and coronary angioplasty procedures.

Physician Assistant (PA)

A health professional who practices medicine with the supervision of a licensed physician. PA's work in primary care or more specialized areas such as cardiothoracic surgery.


When a valve leaks it is said to be regurgitant.

Rheumatic heart disease

Rheumatic fever is an infection which occasionally causes disease in the joints and heart valves. In time this may progress to ultimately damage the valves sufficiently that they must be replaced or repaired.

Same Day Patient

A patient admitted the day of surgery who remains in the hospital after surgery.

Saphenous vein

This surface vein on the inside of the leg running from the ankle to the groin can be used to create bypasses from the aorta to the coronary arteries.

Sinus rhythm

The normal rhythm of the heart.

SPECT (Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography)

Housed in the Nuclear Cardiology Laboratory, this unit provides physicians with vital information on cardiac blood flow while the patient is at rest or engaged in physical activity


The narrowing of a valve or an artery. A stenotic valve does not open completely and therefore it obstructs or blocks blood from moving through it normally. A stenotic artery results in an obstruction of blood flow through it to the organs of the body.

Stress test

The heart is monitored both at rest and with exercise to see if there is a negative change in blood flow.


Syncope (pronounced "sin-ko-pea") is the medical term for fainting. Syncope is a sudden and transient loss of consciousness which has many causes. Ultimately most causes of syncope produce a dramatic fall in blood pressure which leads to fainting. Nearly half of all Americans will experience at least one episode of syncope during their lifetime. Syncope occurs in people of all ages from young children to elderly patients.

Swan Ganz catheter

Inserted through a vein in your neck, into your heart, the Swan Ganz catheter is used to measure volume pressure in your heart chambers.

Tissue valve

(see xenograft valves)

Tricuspid valve

The tricuspid valve is the inflow valve for the right ventricle. It closes when the ventricle squeezes blood out to the lungs and then opens to let more blood in to the ventricle.


There are four valves in the heart, two on the left side and two on the right side. On each side there is an inflow valve to the ventricle - the main pumping chamber - and an outflow valve.

Varicose veins

The veins in the leg may become weakened and enlarged, particularly after blood clots have formed in them. These thin-walled, enlarged veins are called "varicose" and cannot be used for coronary bypass grafts.


The main pumping chamber of the heart is the ventricle. The heart has a right ventricle that pumps blood to the lungs, and a left ventricle that pumps blood to the body.

Xenograft valves

Artificial valves made from animal tissue. Most often the valves are made from pig aortic valves.