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Learn what big heart terms mean

Published On: Dec 29 2011 09:55:05 AM CST
Updated On: Dec 09 2009 11:50:12 AM CST
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Heart disease can be the result of a congenital or hereditary defect or may be induced by smoking, poor diet or obesity. Whatever the cause, most heart conditions, detected in good time, can be treated or cured by modern medicine.

When a cardiologist explains symptoms, treatments or technicalities in unfamiliar terms it is easy to become confused and frightened.

To help, get to know these terms related to diseases of the heart and their treatment.

Ischemia

Ischemia means "blood restriction."

To function properly, the heart needs a constant flow of blood. When the vessels around it become narrowed, blood cannot flow properly, Dr. Arthur Schoenstadt explains.

The tissue of the heart muscle -- the myocardium -- is highly sensitive, and when arteries become constricted, the heart becomes starved of vital oxygen which. If left untreated, can result in serious damage.

Myocardial ischemia is also known as angina.

Atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis is an accumulation of plaque on the artery walls, Dr. F. Brian Boudi says.

The easiest way to visualise what is happening is to compare the arteries with domestic water pipes. Over a period of time, if your water contains excessive lime, the pipes will become obstructed and water flow diminished.

In the same way, coronary arteries can become clogged -- not with lime scale, but with cholesterol, calcium or other substances. Although some causes of atherosclerosis, such as aging and congenital disease, are beyond our control, factors like smoking, obesity and a diet high in sugars are things we can change to alleviate or prevent the problem.

Endocarditis

Endocarditis is an inflammation or swelling of the lining of the heart chambers and valves.

Unlike atherosclerosis, endocarditis is not generally caused by factors within the control of the patient.

The most common cause is bacterial infection, where germs from elsewhere in the body spread through the bloodstream and find their way to the heart.

Endocarditis is not common in people with healthy hearts, being more likely to affect people already suffering with heart disease. It is normally treated with strong antibiotics, but occasionally demands surgery.

Percutaneous Transluminal Coronary Angioplasty

Generally known by the acronym PTCA, or more simply as balloon angioplasty, this is a surgical procedure to open blocked arteries and restore normal blood flow to the heart.

A long tube is inserted into the affected artery, with a very small balloon at its extremity. Once the balloon is inflated, the fatty tissue which has caused the blockage is compressed and the artery opening slightly enlarged, allowing blood to flow more freely.

PTCA can involve rather more complicated surgery, including the insertion of stents, which are coiled springs that keep the artery open.

Aldosterone antagonists

Aldosterone is a naturally occuring hormone released by the renal system. Its presence in the body regulates our sodium and potassium levels.

In the presence of decreased blood flow -- hypoperfusion -- in heart disease, the body tries to compensate by activating the aldosterone system. This can lead to an over-production of aldosterone, which can cause coronary inflammation and aggravate the underlying heart disease.

Aldosterone antagonists are drugs that inhibit the body's production of aldosterone and are prescribed in certain instances of heart disease.

The two aldosterone antagonists currently licensed for commercial use in the U.S are spironolactone and eplerenone. These drugs act in different ways and will be prescribed according to the cardiologist's findings.

Each has been shown to be life-saving in patients with advanced heart failure and are thought to be beneficial in certain patients with mild heart failure.

Patients undergoing treatment with these drugs are regularly monitored for potassium and renal function.