Medical Terms Used

This list of terms explains some of the words, phrases and abbreviations you may
hear or even read in our Heartline Families magazine but which are not necessarily explained.
If you are unsure about the meaning of anything, ask the person who wrote it, your GP or Cardiac Liaison

Abscess – a localised collection of infected liquid called pus.
Acidosis – loss of the normal balance of body chemistry resulting from poor heart
action and poor blood supply to parts of the body.
Anaemia – reduction in the red blood cell count.
Anaesthesia – the state produced by an anaesthetic
Anaesthetic – a chemical that produces loss of consciousness.
Analgesic – a chemical substance that produces freedom from pain.
Aneurysm – a ballooning of the wall of a blood vessel or of the heart.
Angiography – a procedure to see blood vessels using x-ray by first injecting a dye
Angioplasty – stretching of a narrow artery by a balloon catheter.
Anomalous – wrong
Anomaly – something wrong
Aortic arch – topmost part of the aorta from which the head, neck and arm arteries
ARP – anticipated recovery pathway
Artery – a blood vessel that carries blood away from the heart.
Ascites – fluid in the abdomen.
Asystole – stoppage of heart action.
Atheroma – damage to the lining of arteries producing narrowing and reduction of
blood flow onto which clots may form.
Atresia – blocked/missing/never formed.
Autopsy – examination of the body after death.
Autograft- using the body’s own tissue
Banding – an artificial narrowing of the lung artery with a ‘band’ or string to reduce
blood flow.
Bifurcation – division into two.
Bicuspid – having two cusps
Biopsy – removal of a small piece of tissue.
Blalock-Taussig shunt – operation to join left or right subclavian artery to pulmonary
Blood pressure – the pressure of blood within the vessels.
BNO – Bowels not opened
Terms BO – Bowels opened
BP – Blood pressure
Bronchomalacia – softening of the cartilage supporting the two bronchi
Bronchus (plural is bronchi) – main airway to each lung.
Bundle of His – part of the system of conducting nerves in the heart
Caesarian – a surgical operation to removed the baby from the uterus through the wall
of the abdomen
Capillaries – very fine blood vessels through whose walls food, oxygen, waste products,
carbon dioxide are filtered to and from the body tissues.
Carbon dioxide – waste gas produced as a by-product of body activity.
Cardiac – to do with the heart.
Cardiac output – the amount of blood pumped by the heart per minute.
Cardiomyopathy – disease of the heart muscle.
Cardioplegia – a chemical solution used to protect heart muscle during open heart
Cardiopulmonary bypass – a pump and an oxygenator to maintain blood supply to the
body while the heart’s action is stopped.
Cardioversion – shocking a heart into a normal rhythm
Cholesterol – a fatty chemical found particularly in animal fat.
Chordae tendonae – fibrous cords that support the mitral and tricuspid valves.
Chorea – spontaneous abnormal purposeless movements.
Chromosomes – in every cell, DNA bonded to proteins that carry genes
Chronotrope – to increase heart rate
Circulation – the system of heart, veins and arteries for getting oxygen and nutrients in
the blood to the organs, and carrying deoxygenated blood back
Chyle – a fluid containing a lot of fat within the lymphatic system.
Clinical governance –regular review by hospital clinicians and managers to maintain
ethical standards.
Clubbing – rounded swelling of the ends of the fingers or toes.
Coil – a device used for blocking blood vessels
Collaterals – natural additional blood vessels to help overcome a blockage.
Conducting – carrying an electrical signal
Conduit – artificial tube.
Congenital – present at birth
Congenital Heart Disease, Condition, Defect – abnormality of the heart present at birth.
Congestion – too much fluid in a part of the body.
Consolidation – part of lungs becoming airless.
Convulsion – a fit.
Coronary arteries – the blood supply to the heart muscle.
Coroner – an official who inquires into unnatural death eg sudden, unexpected or
those related to procedures or operations.
Corrective – to return the circulation to normal.
CPAP – constant positive airway pressure, a way of keeping small airspaces open.
page 164 page 165
Cyanosis – blue colouration of skin and lips due to lower amount of oxygen in the
Defibrillator – a machine using electrical shock to treat abnormalities of heart rhythm.
Descending aorta – the aorta beyond the aortic arch
Dialysis – a method of washing out waste products.
Diaphragm –muscle of breathing that separates the chest from the abdomen.
Diastole – resting phase of heart action.
Diastolic blood pressure – the lower of the blood pressure readings, produced as the
heart relaxes
Doppler – the use of sound waves to assess speed and direction of blood flow.
Drain – a tube used to move fluid or air from the body.
Drip – a means of getting food and drugs into a vein.
Duct – a tube carrying fluid or blood.
Ductus arteriosus – a blood vessel part of the embryo’s circulation, carrying blood from
the pulmonary artery to the aorta. Should close shortly after birth.
Dysphagia – difficulty with swallowing.
Dyspnoea – breathlessness.
ECG – electrocardiogram: recording of the electrical activity of the heart.
Echocardiogram – a picture of the heart and blood vessels using reflected high
frequency sound waves.
ECMO – Extra Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation: a heart lung machine – which may
be used to rest the heart and lungs.
-ectomy – removal
EEG – electro-encephalogram – recording electrical activity of the brain
EF – Ejection Fraction – percentage of blood pumped from the ventricle
Electrocardiogram – recording of the electrical activity of the heart.
Electrodes – fine wires that carry electrical activity from or into the heart.
Embolus – an abnormal substance within the blood stream such as clot or air.
Embryo – the developing baby within the womb.
Endocarditis – inflammation of the endocardium
Endocardium – smooth lining on the inside of the heart and its valves.
Failure – inability of the organ to cope with demands.
Failure to thrive – poor or no weight gain
Fainting – temporary loss of consciousness
Familial – runs in families.
Femoral – related to the leg.
Fetal – of the fetus – the baby before birth
Fibrillation – disorganised heart contractions.
Flutter – abnormally fast regular beating usually of the atrium.
Fetus – sometime spelt ‘foetus’ – developing baby within the womb.
Gastrostomy – a hole created so that food can be fed directly into the stomach
Gene – an inherited characteristic, a part of a chromosome.
Haematoma – a localised collection of blood outside a vessel.
Haemoglobin – the chemical carried in red cells that carries oxygen, carbon dioxide
and gives colour to the blood..
Haemolysis – destruction of red cells.
Haemoptysis – blood coughed up from lungs.
Haemorrhage – a leak of blood from blood vessels.
Hb – haemoglobin
Heart block – disturbance in heart rhythm so that the ventricles beat more slowly then
the atriums, described as first degree, second degree or complete
Heart-lung machine, Heart-lung bypass machine – oxygenates and pumps blood
around the body while heart operations are carried out.
Heterograft – (also called Xenograft) – using a tissue from another species
Homograft (also called allograft) – using tissue from another human.
Hyper – too much.
Hypertension – elevated blood pressure.
Hyperthermia – very high temperature
Hypo – too little.
Hypoplastic – underdeveloped
Hypotension – low blood pressure.
Hypothermia – very low temperature.
Idiopathic – cause unknown.
Immunisation – a method of increasing patient’s defence against infection.
Incompetence – leaking.
Infant – less than one year.
Infarct – death of tissue related to blocking of the blood supply.
Infective endocarditis – acquired heart disease
Infra – below.
Infusion – fluid or medication given slowly into a vein.
Inotrope – a drug used to increase heart muscle function
Intra – within.
Intravenous infusion (IV) – giving drugs or fluids directly into a vein.
Intubation – passage of a tube into the windpipe to assist with breathing.
Ischaemia – reduction in organ function as a result of reduced blood supply.
-itis – infection.
page 166 page 167
Invasive test, invasive procedure – the skin needs to be penetrated
IVs – intravenous infusions
Jaundice – yellow colouring of skin and eyes as a result of liver dysfunction or red cell
Juxta – nearby
Keloid – a hard lumpy scar from excess fibrous tissue.
Leucocyte – white blood cell that fights infection.
Lines – intravenous and intra-arterial cannulae
Lobe – part of an organ.
Lymph – body fluid running in channels, drains fluid and particularly fats from the
bowel back into the circulation.
Macro – large
Mediastinum – space in the chest between the lungs, heart and great vessels.
Micro – small
Monocusp – a single cusp from a donor valve.
Murmur – noise produced by blood flow in the heart and vessels.
Nasogastric – from nose to stomach
NBM – nil by mouth
Needle phobia – fear of injections
Neonate – baby in the first month of life.
NG – nasogastric
NGT – nasogastric tube
NO – Nitric oxide
Node – area of specialised cell that controls the rhythm of the heart.
Non-invasive test, non-invasive procedure – does not need to penetrate the skin
NPU – not passed urine
Nucleus – central part of most cells and contains the chromosomes.
Nutrients – those parts of food which are used by the body for repair and growth
O2 – oxygen
Obs – observations
Oedema – extra fluid accumulating in the tissue.
Oesophagus – gullet
Oliguria – too little urine.
– ology – the study of.
– ostomy – a hole.
– otomy – an incision.
OPD – outpatient department
Outpatients – a department of a hospital your child may visit without being admitted to
the hospital.
Oximeter – a machine to measure oxygen.
Oxygen – part of the air that is needed by all animal cells for normal working.
Oxygenator – an artificial machine that delivers oxygen into the blood.
Pacemaker – electrical control of the speed of the heart – either natural or artificial.
Paediatric – old spelling of pediatric
Palliation – a procedure to improve the patient’s condition.
Palpitation – an uncomfortable sensation of heart beat which may be slow, fast,
irregular or regular.
Parasympathetic nerves – nerves to the heart that slow heart rate.
Parenteral – medicines or fluids given by injection.
Paresis – paralysis.
PCU – Pediatric Cardiac Unit: part of a hospital which specialises in treating children
with heart conditions
PDA – Patent ductus arteriosus
Pediatric – sometimes spelt ‘paediatric’ – word to describe science of medical
problems in children.
Pediatric cardiologist – doctor specialising in children’s heart conditions
Peri – nearby.
Pericardium – lining bag in which the heart sits.
Peritoneum – membrane lining the inside of the abdomen.
Phrenic nerve – nerve that supplies the diaphragm.
Physiological – functioning normally.
Placenta – organ inside the uterus that supplies the developing baby with nourishment
and removes waste products.
Plasma – liquid part of the blood.
Platelets – small particles in the blood which are important for blood clotting.
Pleura – covering layer of the lungs and the inside of the chest.
Pneumothorax – air outside the lung and within the chest cavity.
Polycythaemia – increased number of red blood cells.
Precordium – part of the chest in front of the heart.
Prenatal diagnosis – finding out about the baby’s condition before birth
Procedure – another word for operation or treatment or invasive test
Prognosis – an estimation of outlook for the patient’s particular problem.
page 168 page 169
Prophylaxis – prevention.
Prosthetic – artificial.
PU – passed urine
Pulmonary – of the lungs.
Pulse – the arterial beat from forward blood flow produced by the heart contraction.
Pulse oximeter – a device for measuring oxygen in the blood
Pus – liquid produced by infection.
Pyrexia – high temperature.
Radiograph – photograph of part of the body using x-rays.
Radio-isotope – a substance uses radioactivity for diagnostic purposes.
Re-entry circuit -continual electrical reactivation of part of the heart
Regurgitant – backward flow –leaking.
Renal – pertaining to kidneys.
Resuscitation –treatment to stimulate the heart or breathing
Sac – bag.
Saline – salt solution usually the same strength as body fluid.
Saphenous – a vein in the leg.
Sats – short for oxygen saturation
Sclerosis – hardening of tissue.
Scoliosis – curvature of the spine.
Sedation – drugs used to reduce nervousness and increase calm, reduced level of
Semilunar – crescent shaped, relates to the aortic or pulmonary valve leaflets.
Septectomy – removal of a septum.
Septicaemia – an infection of the blood stream.
Septostomy – a hole created in the septum.
Septum – a dividing structure.
Shock – severe failure of the circulation with cessation of normal body action.
Shunt – a natural or artificial tube used to increase blood supply to the lungs.
Side effects – ways in which a medicine can affect the patient, other than the way
Sign – an abnormality found on examination.
Sphygmomanometer – instrument for measuring blood pressure.
Stenosis – narrowing in the vessel or valve.
Stent – an expandable metal tube used to enlarge narrow vessels
Sternum – breast bone.
Stillbirth – birth of a baby who has died
Stridor – noisy breathing.
Stroke – loss of function related to blockage or bursting of blood vessel supplying part
of the brain
Sub – below.
Subclavian – below the clavicle.
Supra – above.
Suture – fine string used to sew two parts together.
SVT – Supra Ventricular Tachycardia – a fast heart beat starting in the atrial chambers
Sympathetic nerve – nerves to the heart that increase the heart rate.
Symptom – an indication of a medical condition
Syncope – loss of consciousness related to lack of blood flow to the brain.
Syndrome – a collection of abnormalities that together produce a recognisable pattern.
Systole – the period of contraction of the ventricles.
Systolic blood pressure – the top of blood pressure measurement taken when the
heart is contracting.
Tachycardia – rapid heart rate.
Tachypnoea – rapid breathing.
Tamponade – obstruction to filling of the heart by pressure from a surrounding
collection of fluid.
Thoracic duct – vessel carrying lymph drainage from bowel through the chest to the
subclavian vein.
Thoracotomy – an operation on the chest.
Threshold – lowest level of stimulus that will produce a response.
Thrill – vibration that can be felt, produced by abnormal blood flow.
Thrombolysis – dissolving a clot in a blood vessel with drugs.
Thrombosis – clot formation.
Thrombus – clot
Toxic – an illness related to a poisonous by-product usually infection.
Trachea – windpipe.
Tracheomalacia – softening of the cartilage that supports the windpipe.
Tracheostomy – a small tube inserted through a hole in the windpipe to assist
Umbilical – tube that connects the placenta to the developing baby before birth.
Umbrella – a catheter device to block abnormal blood vessel
Unifocalisation – bringing separate vessels together
Vaccine – a liquid of weak or killed micro-organisms, or their proteins that that can be
used to prevent diseases.
VAD – ventricular assist device to support the heart
Vagus nerve – nerve supply to the body and bowel, stimulation of which slows the
heart rate.
Valve – structure which opens and closes to allow blood flow in one direction only
Valvoplasty – stretching of a narrow valve often with a balloon catheter.
page 170 page 171
Valvotomy – cutting or stretching of a narrow valve.
Vascular – relating to blood vessels.
Vasodilator – a drug to open up blood vessels
Vegetation – lumpy areas on a heart valve caused by infection and blood clot.
Vein (vena) – thin walled blood vessel carrying blood towards the heart.
Viral – caused by a virus
Vitamin k – helps blood to clot and is suppressed by warfarin, an anticoagulant
Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome – an extra electrical pathway between  the heart’s upper and lower chambers causes a rapid heartbeat. The extra pathway is present at birth and is rare.
Xenograft – tissue from another species
X-ray- a test using rays to see the more solid structures inside the body