Glossary of Heart Disease

The term 'heart disease' is often used - but there are many types of disease that come under this category.

The term 'heart disease' is often used - but there are many types of disease that come under this category.  This companion piece to "The Heart of a Woman" in our Spring 2015 issue provides a list of some of the most common conditions in the heart disease spectrum.

Angina – Angina is chest pain or discomfort due to coronary heart disease. It occurs when the heart muscle doesn’t get as much blood as it needs. This usually happens because one or more of the heart’s arteries is narrowed or blocked, also called ischemia. Stable angina refers to “predictable” chest discomfort associated with exertion or stress. Unstable angina refers to unexpected chest pain and usually occurs at rest. It is typically more severe and prolonged. Unstable angina should be treated as an emergency.

Arrhythmia – An arrhythmia is an abnormal heart rhythm that, when severe or long-lasting, can prevent the heart from pumping enough blood to the body. Damage to the heart muscle from a heart attack can make someone prone to arrhythmias, as can some congenital heart conditions. A variety of minerals, such as potassium, magnesium and calcium, with high or low concentrations in the blood and tissue can cause arrhythmias. So can alcohol, cigarettes and recreational drugs. There are several types of arrhythmias including atrial fibrillation (AFib or AF), bradycardia, tachycardia and others.

Atherosclerosis – Atherosclerosis is a condition in which plaque builds up inside the arteries. Plaque is made of cholesterol, fatty substances, cellular waste products, calcium and fibrin (a clotting material in the blood). Plaque may partially or totally block the blood’s flow through an artery in the heart, brain, pelvis, legs, arms or kidneys. Some of the diseases that may develop as a result of atherosclerosis include coronary heart disease, angina (chest pain), carotid artery disease, peripheral artery disease (PAD) and chronic kidney disease. AKA: hardening of the arteries

Cardiac arrest – Sudden cardiac arrest occurs when the heart’s electrical system malfunctions, and the heart suddenly stops beating, often without warning. While the terms “sudden cardiac arrest” and “heart attack” are often used as if they are synonyms, they aren’t. Cardiac arrest can occur after a heart attack, or during recovery. Heart attacks increase the risk for cardiac arrest, but most heart attacks do not lead to cardiac arrest. Immediate CPR can double or triple the chances of survival.  AKA: sudden cardiac arrest

Congenital heart defects – A congenital heart defect simply means a heart problem that was present at birth. Symptoms can appear immediately or many years later. Congenital heart defects cause more deaths in the first year of life than any other birth defect. AKA: congenital heart disease

Heart attack – A heart attack occurs when a blocked coronary artery prevents oxygen-rich blood from reaching a section of the heart muscle. If the blocked artery is not reopened quickly, the part of the heart normally nourished by that artery begins to die. Symptoms can come on suddenly but may start slowly and persist over time. Warning signs include discomfort in the chest (pressure, squeezing, fullness), discomfort in other upper-body areas (arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach), shortness of breath, a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.  AKA: myocardial infarction, a coronary

Heart failure – Heart failure is when the heart can’t pump enough blood to the organs. The heart works, but not as well as it should. Heart failure is almost always a chronic, long-term condition. The older you are, the more common heart failure becomes. Your risk also rises if you are overweight, diabetic, smoke, abuse alcohol or use cocaine. When a heart begins to fail, fluid can pool in the body; this manifests as swelling (edema), usually in the lower legs and ankles. Fluid also may collect in the lungs, causing shortness of breath. AKA: congestive heart failure

Ischemic heart disease Ischemic heart disease is caused by heart arteries that are narrowed. When arteries become narrowed, less blood and oxygen reaches the heart muscle. When more oxygen is needed, such as while exercising, the heart cannot meet the demands. The lack of oxygen caused by ischemic heart disease can produce angina or even a heart attack. AKA: coronary artery disease, coronary heart disease

Stroke – A stroke is an interruption of blood flow to the brain causing paralysis, slurred speech and/or altered brain function. About nine of every 10 strokes are caused by a blockage in a blood vessel that carries blood to the brain; this is known as an ischemic stroke. The other type of stroke is known as hemorrhagic, caused by a blood vessel bursting. Although a stroke happens in the head, it is considered a cardiovascular event because the blood vessels are involved.

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