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Glossary of Medical Terms

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Ace Inhibitor: Medication used to treat high blood pressure.

Angina (Angina Pectoris): Pain or discomfort which occurs when the heart does not receive adequate blood flow – and thus oxygen -- to the heart muscle. Angina may be experienced in the chest, neck, jaw, arms, shoulder or back. No permanent damage is done to the heart.

Angioplasty: A procedure performed by cardiac surgeons to open an obstruction or narrowing of a blood vessel, using a balloon that is inserted with a catheter. Also known as a Percutaneous Transluminal Coronary Angioplasty (PTCA).

Anticoagulant: A drug that slows or prevents the blood from clotting.

Aneurysm: An aneurysm is an abnormal widening of a blood vessel. Aneurysms can sometimes burst, causing a serious medical emergency. If not caught in time, they can be life-threatening.

Aorta: The main artery leaving the heart.

Arteries: Vessels that transport oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the rest of the body.

Atrial Fibrillation:A rapid and irregular rhythm that begins in the upper chambers of the heart (the atria). As a result, the lower chambers also beat irregularly. This condition requires diagnosis and treatment.

Arterial Line: A small plastic tube that is placed in an artery in your wrist in order to monitor arterial blood pressure. Blood samples can also be taken through this tube.

Arrhythmia: An abnormal rhythm of the heart, including rate, regularity, or site of impulse origin. Types of arrhythmias include tachycardias (fast heart rhythms) and bradycardias (slow heart rhythms).

Atherosclerosis:A disease process in which fatty substances (plaque), such as cholesterol, are deposited on the inner lining of blood vessels.

Arteriosclerosis:Arteriosclerosis is a general term for a condition that is characterized by the thickening, hardening and loss of elasticity of the walls of the arteries.

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Beta Blocker: Medication used to treat high blood pressure, angina, myocardial infarction and other heart conditions, by controlling the heart rate.

Bradycardia: An abnormally slow heart rhythm.

Bypass Graft (Vein, Mammary Artery, Aorta-Coronary Bypass Graft): A surgical procedure where a piece of vein, taken from the leg, or a piece or artery, taken from the inside of the chest wall, replaces a diseased coronary artery. The graft helps get more blood to the heart muscle.

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Calcium Channel Blocker: A drug used to treat high blood pressure and angina. It decreases the workload of the heart by blocking the influx of calcium ions into the smooth muscle cells, which reduces the oxygen demand on the heart.

Cardiac: Relating to the heart.

Cardiac Angiogram or Catheterization: An X-ray procedure which involves the injection of dye into the heart chambers and into the coronary arteries for diagnostic purposes. An X-ray reveals the exact site where the artery is narrowed or blocked and measures how well the heart is pumping.

Catheter: A hollow, flexible tube used to withdraw or inject fluid into the body.

Chest Tube: A tube or tubes in the chest which drain fluids from the area of the operation. The chest tubes remain in place for approximately two days.

Cholesterol: A waxy substance that circulates in the blood and plays a role in the formation of blockages. Cholesterol originates in foods that are rich in animal fats.

Congestive Heart Failure: The condition which results when the heart is unable to pump adequately. Congestive heart failure (CHF) can result from coronary heart disease.

Coronary Arteries: Special arteries which supply the heart muscle with blood.

Coronary Artery Disease: A condition in which the arteries supplying the heart muscle become blocked. The cause of this is unknown, but some known risk factors include: hypertension, family history, smoking, diabetes, obesity, diet and stress.

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Diabetes: A disease that negatively affects the metabolism of glucose (sugar) and cause changes in blood vessels that, untreated, may lead to circulation issues, development of coronary artery disease, blindness and other health issues.

Dilation: The gradual opening of the narrowed coronary artery by cracking and compressing the narrowing or obstructing plaque.

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Echocardiogram: An ultrasound of the heart.

Electrocardiogram (EKG/ ECG): A recording of the electrical activity of the heart. The EKG recording can be used to detect many abnormalities in the heart.

Endotrachael Tube (ETT): Breathing tube placed in the trachea during surgery or respiratory emergencies to assist with breathing. Removed when the patient is able to breathe on his/her own.

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Fibrillation: A rapid and irregular heart rhythm caused by abnormal electrical impulses. This is a potentially serious condition.

Fibrillation, Atrial : See Atrial Fibrillation.

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Heart Lung Machine (Bypass): This machine performs the function of the heart and lungs in surgery, when grafts are being attached to the heart.

Hypertension:High blood pressure, usually above 135/85.

Hypotension:Low blood pressure. The tolerance for low blood pressure varies greatly, but generally a systolic blood pressure less than 90 indicates hypotension..

Hypercholesterolemia: Hypercholesterolemia refers to levels of cholesterol in the blood that are higher than normal.

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Incentive Spirometer: This machine lets you know if you are breathing deeply enough. Respiratory therapists teach patients how to use the spirometer.

Ischemia:Lack of or insufficient oxygen to the heart muscle. Ischemia is a reversible condition if normal blood flow is restored.

IV (Intravenous): Small tubes which are placed into the veins for the purpose of giving fluids and drugs, taking blood samples, and measuring pressures. These "lines" as they are called, will remain in place for several days after surgery.

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Left Ventricle: The largest chamber of the heart. It is responsible for pumping blood throughout the body.

Local (Anesthetic): Numbing medicine which is used to decrease discomfort when intravenous lines are put into place.

Lungs: Sponge-like organs of the body which allow oxygen to enter the blood when you breathe.

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Mammary Artery: An artery that runs down the inside of the chest wall and is sometimes used in coronary artery bypass graft surgery.

Murmur: A heart murmur is defined as the sound caused by turbulent blood flow through the heart, as heard by a physician through a stethoscope. Most heart murmurs are benign, but sometimes a murmur can indicate problems such as a malfunctioning heart valve.

Myocardial Infarction (M.I.):A "heart-attack", with loss of part of the heart muscle due to a severe decrease in blood supply. Permanent damage to the heart occurs.

Myocarditis: An inflammatory disease of the heart muscle (myocardium) that can result from a variety of causes. While most cases are produced by a viral infection, an inflammation of the heart muscle may also be instigated by toxins, drugs, and hypersensitive immune reactions. Myocarditis is a rare but serious condition that affects both males and females of any age.

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NG Tube (Nasogastric):A small tube placed through the nose and into the stomach to draw out secretions and lessen stomach upset immediately after surgery.

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Pacemaker: Electronic device used to control the heart rate. Used after open heart surgery to maintain a steady heart rate for recovery, and, in emergencies, to stimulate the heart to bea

Pericarditis: Two thin membranes enclose the heart in a sac-like structure. If these membranes become irritated or inflamed, the condition is known as pericarditis. Pericarditis is fairly common, affecting about 1 in 1,000 people at some point in their lives. It can be caused by flu, polio, injury, or German measles. Other causes are rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. This condition sometimes follows a heart attack.

Pericardial Tamponade: Pericardial Tamponade is a dangerous form of pericarditis. The membranes enclosing the heart do not easily stretch, so if fluid accumulates between the membranes and the heart, pressure from it may prevent the heart from working as a pump. Pericardial tamponade usually is the result of trauma, such as an automobile accident, and must be treated immediately.

Percutaneous: Performed through a small opening in the skin.

Percutaneous Transluminal Coronary Angioplasty (PTCA).: See Angioplasty.

Plaque: The accumulated wax-like material that causes a blockage in a blood vessel. Also known as a lesion or stenosis.

Platelets: A substance in the blood that is involved in the formation of a clot.

Pressure monitors and pressure lines: Devices used to measure the internal pressures that the heart and lungs are emitting. Usually inserted through arteries in the neck, arm or leg.

Pulmonary Function Studies: A series of tests which are performed before surgery to evaluate the condition of your lungs.

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Restenosis:A re-narrowing or blockage of an artery at the same site where angioplasty was previously done.

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Saphenous Vein: The large vein in the leg, often used as the "bypass graft" in coronary artery bypass graft surgery.

Stenosis:A narrowing of any canal. Used to describe narrowed coronary arteries or a narrowed heart valve.

Stent: An expandable, slotted metal tube that is inserted into a vessel. A stent acts as a scaffold to provide structural support for a vessel.

Sternum: The breastbone.

Suctioning: A procedure performed on patients connected to a ventilator. A small tube placed down the throat draws out mucous, in order the keep the lungs clear.

Sutures (also called Stitches): The material used to close a surgical incision.

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Tachycardia: An abnormally fast heart rate.

Telemetry Monitory: A specialized wireless monitor that allows patients to move freely in their rooms and the hall, but still enables the staff to observe their EKG.

Thrombosis:A blockage caused by clumps of cells.

Triglycerides: Substances in the blood that are a component of the "bad" type of cholesterol.

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Valves: The heart has 4 valves: the aortic, mitral, pulmonary and the tricuspid.

  • Aortic Valve: The valve that sits at the junction of the left ventricle and the aorta. When the valve is open it allows blood to flow from the left ventricle to the aorta, and when closed, prevents any backward flow.
  • Aortic Insufficiency: An incomplete closing of the aortic valve, causing blood to flow backward into the left ventricle.
  • Aortic Stenosis: A narrowing of the aortic valve, causing the left ventricle to work harder, but limiting the amount of blood that can be pumped forward into the aorta.

  • Mitral Valve:The valve that sits between the left atrium and the left ventricle.

  • Mitral Insufficiency:An incomplete closing of the mitral valve, causing blood to flow backward into the left atrium.
  • Mitral Stenosis:A narrowing of the mitral valve, causing blood to flow backward into the left atrium.
  • Pulmonary Valve: The valve that sits at the junction of the right ventricle and the pulmonary artery.

  • Tricuspid Valve: The valve that sits between the right atrium and the right ventricle.

Veins: Vessels that transport blood back to the heart after the oxygen has been used by the body.

Vein Graft: A piece of a vein taken from either a leg or arm that is used to bypass the damaged coronary artery and restore blood flow to the heart muscle.

Ventilator:A machine that helps patients breathe after surgery.

Ventricle: One of the two lower chambers of the heart.

Ventricular Fibrillation: A very rapid, uncoordinated, ineffective series of contractions throughout the lower chambers of the heart. Unless stopped, these chaotic impulses are fatal.

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