The cardiovascular system—which is comprised of the heart and blood vessels—is a complex and amazing process that drives the essential, life-sustaining functions of your body. Before you can fully comprehend how it works—and what can go wrong and how it can be repaired—it’s important to understand the meaning of terms associated with it. Below are names and definitions of some common cardiovascular diseases and procedures.
Abdominal aortic aneurysm or AAA: A weak area in the main blood vessel (aorta) that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body. Over time, this area can bulge and burst, causing a life-threatening episode.
Angioplasty: The technique of mechanically widening narrowed or blocked arteries, the latter typically is a result of atherosclerosis. An empty and collapsed balloon on a guide wire, known as a balloon catheter, is passed into the narrowed locations and then inflated to a fixed size. The balloon crushes the fatty deposits, opening up the blood vessel for improved flow, and the balloon is then deflated and withdrawn. A stent may or may not be inserted at the time of ballooning to ensure the vessel remains open.
Arterial stents: Small metal coil or mesh tube that is placed in a narrowed artery to hold it open, which helps improve blood flow to your heart.
Arteriogram: An imaging test that uses x-rays and a special dye to see inside the arteries. It can be used to see arteries in the heart, brain, kidney, and many other parts of the body.
Arteriovenous (AV) fistula: An abnormal connection between an artery and a vein. Normally, blood flows from your arteries to your capillaries to your veins. Nutrients and oxygen in your blood travel from your capillaries to tissues in your body. With an arteriovenous fistula, blood flows directly from an artery into a vein, bypassing some capillaries. When this happens, tissues below the bypassed capillaries receive less blood supply. Arteriovenous fistulas usually occur in the legs, but can develop anywhere in the body.
Cardiac arrhythmia: Irregular heartbeat.
Cardioversion: The procedure of applying electrical shock to the chest to change an abnormal heartbeat into a normal one.
Carotid artery stenosis: Narrowing of the carotid arteries, which are the main arteries in the neck supplying blood to the brain.
Chemoembolization: Delivery of cancer-fighting agents directly to the site of a tumor, currently being used to treat cancers of the endocrine system and liver.
Chronic venous insufficiency (CVI): Commonly known as varicose veins, is a condition where the veins cannot pump enough oxygen-poor blood back to the heart.
Coronary artery disease or atherosclerosis: A condition in which plaque builds up inside the coronary arteries, narrowing the arteries and reducing blood flow to the heart. As the blood flow to the heart muscle is restricted, angina (chest pains) or heart attack can occur.
Cryoplasty (or cryo-balloon angioplasty): A procedure very similar to angioplasty in which your vascular surgeon inserts a balloon catheter into a blocked artery to repair an obstruction within the vessel. In conventional angioplasty, depending on the location of the blockage, a stent may be inserted at the location of the repair to prevent the blockage from returning, a condition referred to as restenosis.
Deep vein thrombosis: A blood clot that occurs in a deep leg vein.
Echocardiogram (or echo): An echocardiogram uses high frequency sound waves to produce a graphic outline of the heart's movement.
Endovascular coiling (or coil embolization): A minimally invasive technique, which means an incision in the skull is not required, to treat a cerebral aneurysm. A catheter is advanced from a blood vessel in the groin up into the blood vessels in the brain. Fluoroscopy (live X-ray) will be used to assist in advancing the catheter into the head and into the aneurysm. Once the catheter is in place, very tiny platinum coils are advanced through the catheter into the aneurysm. These tiny, soft, platinum coils, which are visible on X-ray, conform to the shape of the aneurysm. The coiled aneurysm becomes clotted off (embolization), preventing rupture. This procedure is performed either under general or local anesthesia.
Heart failure: Occurs when the heart fails to pump enough blood, which is caused by diseases or conditions that damage or overwork the heart muscle.
Hypertension: High blood pressure.
Ischemia: Inadequate blood supply (circulation) to a local area due to blockage of the blood vessels to the area.
Interventional radiology: A technology where specially-trained radiologists use imaging equipment such as x-rays, magnetic resonance (MR) imaging, ultrasound and computed tomography (CT) to diagnose and sometimes treat diseases. Through guided imagery, interventional radiologists use balloons, catheters, micro catheters, and stents to conduct minimally invasive procedures such as biopsies and embolizations (deliberately blocking unwanted blood flow).
Peripheral vascular disease (PVD): Partial blockage of blood vessels by fatty plaques deposited on the walls of arteries outside the heart.
Sclerotherapy: The treatment of varicose blood vessels by the injection of an irritant that causes inflammation, coagulation of blood and narrowing of the blood vessel wall.
Thrombectomy: Removal of a blood clot from a vessel.
Thrombolytic therapy: The use of a medication that dissolves blood clots.
Transesophageal echo: Known as TEE, or heart scan with endoscopy, it is a type of echo test in which the ultrasound transducer, positioned on an endoscope, is guided down the patient's throat into the esophagus (the "food pipe" leading from the mouth into the stomach). An endoscope is a long, thin, flexible instrument that is about a 1/2 inch in diameter. The TEE test provides a close look at the heart's valves and chambers, without interference from the ribs or lungs. TEE is often used when the results from standard echo tests are not sufficient, or when your doctor wants a closer look at your heart. TEE may be combined with Doppler ultrasound and color Doppler to evaluate blood flow across the heart's valves.
Venous ablation: Ablation involves the insertion of a thin, flexible tube called a catheter inserted into a varicose vein. The tip of the catheter heats the walls of the varicose vein and destroys the vein tissue. Once destroyed, the vein is no longer able to carry blood and is absorbed by your body.
To learn more about how the specialists at the Holy Redeemer Cardiovascular Center can diagnose and treat a variety of cardiovascular diseases, visit our Cardiovascular Services page.