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Often we wonder if all that we were taught in school carries us through any of the real world demands. Well your heart health, for one, is a definite contender in that space. For most of us, the world of health and anatomy is convoluted and contorted with its complexity and medical jargon. While you have your physicians and specialists to decode that for you, often having some context to what they're talking about can go a long way in helping you understand and manage your health better. So here's a trip back to school with a little glossary for your heart health needs.
What Everyone Should Know
You've certainly heard some of these words before. They are the terms any healthy person should know about their heart health.
Aorta: The largest artery. All blood pumped out of the left ventricle travels through the aorta on its way to other parts of the body.
Aortic valve: The valve in the heart guarding blood entry to the aorta from left ventricle. This valve ensures the blood doesn't leak back into the left ventricle of the heart from the aorta.
Coronary arteries: A network of blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood to the heart from the aorta. The two main coronary arteries are the right and the left.
Heart attack: A cardiac event that occurs when a blockage (blood clot/ spasm of artery) in the coronary artery leads to a shortage of blood supply to the heart and hence death of heart muscles. Also known as myocardial infarction, this leads to permanent damage to the heart.
Heart valves: The four flaps in the heart, which separate the heart's chambers and help maintain one-way blood flow through the heart.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL): Also known as good cholestrol. It absorbs cholesterol and carries it back to the liver. The liver then flushes it from the body. Food items rich in HDL include beans, olive oil and fish.
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL): Also known as bad cholesterol. High levels of LDL cholesterol raise your risk for heart disease and stroke.
Symptoms or Conditions You May Experience
Sometimes you can't find the words for what you're experiencing. Here's what it might be:
Angina: Discomfort in the chest. You might experience this because of the inadequate supply of blood to the heart. Sometimes you might also experience pain or discomfort in the neck or arms.
Arrhythmia: Any problem concerning the rate and the rhythm of the heart, diagnosed with the help of electrocardiography.
Atherosclerosis: A hardening of the arteries due to abnormal deposits of lipids, cholesterol and plaque buildup, ultimately leading to cardiovascular problems. This is also known as coronary artery disease.
Cardiac arrest: An event when the heart stops beating suddenly.
Congestive heart failure: A progressive condition where the heart muscle weakens and is no longer capable of pumping blood efficiently. The most prominent symptom of this is shortness of breath. Fluid accumulates in the lungs, hands and other parts of the body.
Heart murmur: An abnormal whooshing or swishing sound made by the heart or the flow of blood in the heart, indicative of a problem. A person might be born with it or the murmur may develop later in life because of fever, anemia or pregnancy.
Peripheral artery disease: A condition that leads to a narrowing of the arteries, particularly those bringing blood to the stomach, arms, heart and most commonly, the legs.
Thrombosis: The formation or presence of a blood clot in a blood vessel or a heart chamber.
Diagnostic Testing You Can Expect
Are you concerned something is up with your heart health? These are some of the tests your doctor may conduct:
Angiography: A medical test to search for blockages in the blood vessels and gauge intensities. Images are taken after injecting dye into arteries to study the blood circulation and find the location of the blockage or obstruction.
Cardiac catheterization: An invasive procedure used to diagnose heart disease in which a tube, called a catheter, is inserted into an artery in the arm or leg and guided to the heart. Then a contrast dye is injected and X-rays of the coronary arteries, heart chambers and valves are taken. The procedure helps the doctor find blockages.
Echocardiogram (Echo): Images of the heart's size and structure produced from high-frequency sound waves or ultrasound. It's usually combined with a Doppler ultrasound to provide crucial information about heart health, which is then used to decide a future course of action.
Electrocardiography (ECG): A medical test that uses small electrode patches attached to the skin to record the electrical activity of the heart on graph paper.
Exercise stress test: A test to gauge how the heart responds to stress. Heart rate, blood pressure and electrical activity are monitored as the patient walks on a treadmill or pedals a stationary bike at different levels of difficulty.
Treatments You Should Know About
It's scary to think about having heart surgery, but the more you know about your specific treatment options, the better and more prepared you will feel. Check out some of the possibilities below:
Angioplasty: A nonsurgical procedure to treat the arterial blockage. A specially designed catheter with a tiny balloon tip is placed at a point of narrowing in the artery. The balloon is then inflated to compress the fatty matter into the artery wall and stretch the artery for better blood flow to the heart. Some medical practitioners also refer to this as "balloon angioplasty."
Angiogenesis: It is growth of new blood vessels. It helps to alleviate coronary artery disease by rerouting blood flow around clogged arteries.
Aortic valve replacement: A procedure to replace the aortic valve with a human valve or a prosthetic valve in cases of a malfunction, when the original valve becomes too narrow or leaky.
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR): A crucial procedure to circulate oxygenated blood temporarily through the body of a person whose heart has stopped. It involves giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to give oxygen and also involves applying compression to the chest to circulate blood.
Coronary artery bypass graft (CABG): Also referred to as bypass surgery or open-heart surgery; a major surgery that reroutes blood around blocked arteries to improve the blood supply to the heart.
Pacemaker: A small electronic device implanted in the body to regulate the speed and rhythm of the heartbeat. It is usually used for people whose hearts beat more slowly than the normal. The device runs on batteries.
In your quest for health, the key is empower yourself enough to be an active particpant in your health and not just a passive recipient. When information is combined with context (discussions with your physicians), you can see the picture better. Use this glossary guide to help see past the jargon to what's important in making an informed decision.
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