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Definitions of common heart terms


A procedure to treat abnormal heart rhythms. The small area of tissue in the heart causing the abnormal heart rhythm is deactivated or ‘ablated’ using hot or cold energy.

acute coronary syndromes

An umbrella term to describe a range of conditions where there is a sudden reduction of blood flow to the heart. It includes unstable angina (chest pain) and heart attack. The most common cause of acute coronary syndromes is coronary heart disease.           

acute myocardial infarction/myocardial infarction 

The medical term for a heart attack.

acute rheumatic fever         

An illness caused by an abnormal immune reaction to a Strep A infection (group A streptococcal infection).

Strep A commonly causes skin infections and sore throats. In some people, the immune system gets confused when trying to fight these infections, causing inflammation throughout the body. This is known as acute rheumatic fever. When acute rheumatic fever causes damage to the heart muscle and valves, this is called rheumatic heart disease.


Chest pain or chest discomfort caused by reduced supply of oxygen-rich blood to the heart. Pain can also be felt in the neck, jaw, shoulders, arms or back.

Angina can be described as ‘unstable’ or ‘stable’ depending on the pattern of symptoms and the factors which make the pain worse or better.


A test to look at how blood is flowing through the coronary arteries (the blood vessels supplying the heart muscle). A doctor will use an angiogram to investigate chest pain or a suspected heart attack. A doctor inserts a long, thin tube (catheter) into an artery in the groin or arm. The catheter is pushed through the artery until it reaches your heart. A special dye is then injected into the catheter and an X-ray is taken. The X-ray shows how well your heart is pumping and if your coronary arteries have a build-up of plaque.


A procedure to improve blood flow to the heart by opening the heart’s arteries (coronary arteries) using a small, inflated balloon. Sometimes a stent is inserted at the same time to stop a blockage happening again.

A long, thin tube (catheter) is put into an artery in your groin or arm. The catheter, which has a tiny balloon at the end, is threaded through the artery until it reaches your heart. The balloon is gently inflated to open the artery. Your doctor may use a small mesh tube called a stent to keep the artery open.


Angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors (ACEI), angiotensin receptor blockers (ARB) or angiotensin receptor-neprilysin inhibitors (ARNI)

Types of medicines that help your blood vessels to relax and make it easier for your heart to pump and reduce fluid build-up in your body.


Medicines that help stop blood clots forming.

Often prescribed to people with abnormal heart rhythms to reduce the risk of stroke. Also commonly prescribed following some types of heart valve surgery.


An intensive, often persistent worry, fear or vulnerability that keeps going after a stressful situation has finished. It often comes with strong physical feelings, like a racing heart, feeling sick, or getting very hot then very cold.


The largest artery in the body. The aorta takes oxygen-rich blood from the lungs and heart and delivers it around the body.

aortic aneurysm

An aneurysm is a bulge or weakness in the wall of a blood vessel, where the wall can bulge or ‘balloon’ out. An aortic aneurysm is one that occurs in the aorta, which is the main vessel that carries blood to your body. They can rupture, which is a life-threatening medical emergency.

aortic regurgitation

Blood leaks backward from the aorta into the left ventricle due to a weak aortic valve. This can put stress on the heart and over time can cause heart failure.

aortic stenosis

A disease of the aortic valve causing it to stiffen and narrow so it does not open and close properly.


An abnormal heart rhythm where the heart beats at an unusual rate or in an unusual pattern. Examples include atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter, ventricular tachycardia.


The build-up of fatty material (plaque) inside the arteries. Plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol and other substances. The arteries can become hardened and narrowed, reducing the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart and other parts of the body.

When atherosclerosis occurs in the coronary arteries, this is called coronary heart disease.


The two upper chambers of the heart.

atrial fibrillation        

A type of abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia). The heart beats in an irregular way and often faster than normal. Atrial fibrillation can cause blood clots which can travel to the brain and cause a stroke.

atrial septal defect

A hole in the wall between the right and left atria (the two upper chambers of the heart).

beta blockers

A type of medicine that helps your heart work better by beating slower and stronger.

bicuspid aortic valve

Each heart valve has either two or three leaflets, which are the pieces of tissue that open and close with each heartbeat. The aortic valve normally has three leaflets, but some people are born with only two leaflets for the aortic valve (bicuspid aortic valve). It is also possible to develop a bicuspid aortic valve later in life if the leaflets get stuck together. Bicuspid aortic valves often become narrowed as a person gets older, causing aortic stenosis.

blood pressure         

The pressure on the walls of the arteries as blood circulates around the body.

The first number in a blood pressure reading (for example, 120/80) is the pressure when the heart contracts (forcing blood out). This is also known as the systolic blood pressure.

The second number is the pressure when the heart relaxes (filling with blood). This is also known as the diastolic blood pressure.

‘High blood pressure’ is a condition where the blood pressure increases to unhealthy levels. In most cases, people with high blood pressure don’t have any symptoms.


A slower than normal heart rate – usually anything below 60 beats per minute. 

calcium score/coronary artery calcium scoring  

A coronary artery calcium score uses a CT scan to measure the amount of calcified plaque (calcium) inside the walls of your heart’s arteries. It is a way that your healthcare professional can assess your risk of having a heart attack.

cardiac arrest   

A medical emergency where the heart suddenly stops beating.

A cardiac arrest is caused by a malfunction of the heart’s electrical system, which causes the heart to stop pumping. The malfunction can be due to heart attack or arrythmia, trauma, breathing problems, drowning, electrocution or allergic reactions.

If someone is in cardiac arrest, they will soon be not conscious or breathing normally.

cardiac blues

A change in mood or feelings that occurs to about 75% of people after a heart event. It can include feelings of shock, sadness, confusion, irritability, worry, forgetfulness and withdrawal. It will normally resolve in the first few weeks or months after your heart event. If the feelings persist you should consult your healthcare professional.

cardiac rehabilitation (cardiac rehab)

Cardiac rehabilitation is a comprehensive program that combines exercise, education, counseling and support to help patients recover from heart events like heart attacks or heart surgery, and make lifestyle changes to improve their heart health. It is typically overseen by a team of healthcare professionals.


a set of conditions that affect the heart muscle and the way it works, making it harder for the heart to pump blood to the rest of the body. Cardiomyopathies can be inherited or caused by a range of other medical conditions.

cardiovascular disease       

An umbrella term that refers to all conditions affecting the heart and blood vessels, including stroke.      

cerebrovascular disease    

A disease affecting the blood vessels supplying the brain. Cerebrovascular disease causes stroke, transient ischaemic attack (TIA) and vascular dementia.


Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance. The body needs cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D and to build cells. Everyone has cholesterol, but too much can increase the risk of coronary heart disease.

congenital heart disease    

Problems with the heart or blood vessels that you are born with.    

coronary artery bypass graft surgery (CABG/CAGS)

A type of open-heart surgery to improve blood flow to the heart. A healthy blood vessel is taken from the chest, leg or arm and is attached (‘grafted’) to the coronary artery below and above the blockage. This new pathway allows blood to bypass the blockage.

coronary heart disease       

A disease of the blood vessels supplying the heart muscle.

Coronary heart disease happens when the coronary arteries supplying blood to the heart muscle become blocked or narrowed by a build-up of plaque. The arteries can become hardened and narrowed, reducing the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart. This can cause angina (chest pain) and heart attack.

defibrillator/automated external defibrillator (AED)        

A portable machine to help the heart start beating again. An AED is used to treat a person having a cardiac arrest. Paddles or pads are put on your chest and if needed, the machine will deliver a small electrical current or ‘shock’ to your heart to make it start beating regularly again. 


An intensive, often persistent feeling of sadness, grief or hopelessness that occurs for no apparent reason or keeps going after a sad situation has finished. It can come with difficulty sleeping, change in weight, or disinterest in everyday activities.


A type of medicine that helps you to pass fluid, preventing build-up.


An ultrasound of the heart to look at the heart’s valves and chambers and to see if the heart is pumping properly.           

ectopic heartbeat

A type of abnormal heart rhythm. It happens when your heart contracts (beats) too soon. Your heart can also skip a beat or feel like it is racing or fluttering. 

ejection fraction (EF)           

A measure of the amount of blood your heart pumps out with each heartbeat, expressed as a percentage. It is the most common measure of the heart’s ability to pump. 

electrocardiogram (ECG)    

A recording of the electrical activity of the heart. Small sticky dots with wire leads are put on the chest, arms and legs. These are attached to the ECG machine, which can show a person’s heart rhythm and can help diagnose heart conditions.


Inflammation of the inner lining of the heart (endocardium). Endocarditis can also affect the heart valves. People with heart valve disease or rheumatic heart disease have an increased risk of endocarditis.

family history           

A risk factor for heart disease. Having a family history of heart attack or stroke can increase the risk of having a heart attack or stroke. If one of your close family members (such as a parent or sibling) has had a heart attack or stroke before the age of 65, it’s important to mention this to your doctor.

Heart Age Calculator           

A tool that estimates your heart age compared to your actual age, based on a range of factors. If your heart age is older than your actual age, you might have an increased risk of a heart attack or stroke. It’s best to speak with your doctor.

heart attack   

Occurs when a coronary artery becomes blocked. Oxygen-rich blood cannot reach the heart, and the heart muscle begins to die. A heart attack may not be fatal, especially if you receive immediate medical treatment, but it can cause lasting damage to the heart. Also called myocardial infarction.

heart failure  

A condition where the heart is not able to pump blood and oxygen around the body as well as it should. Heart failure is a life-long condition which needs ongoing management, including medicines.

Heart Health Check  

A Heart Health Check is a comprehensive assessment done by your doctor to evaluate your risk of developing heart disease or having a heart attack/stroke in the next 5 years. It looks at factors like your age, gender, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, diabetes status, smoking habits and family history.

Based on the results, your doctor can recommend lifestyle changes or treatments to reduce your risk.  

Anyone 45 years and over or 30 years and over for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Peoples should have a regular Heart Health Check with their GP.  

heart valve disease  

Conditions where the heart valve(s) do not open or close properly. Heart valves control the flow of blood to, from and within the heart. When the valves are damaged, the heart needs to work harder to pump blood around the body. If not treated, heart valve disease can cause heart failure. 


Also known as high blood pressure. A condition where a person’s blood pressure is consistently above the normal range.

implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD)         

A small battery-powered box that is inserted under the skin to treat abnormal heart rhythms, including giving an electrical ‘shock’ if the abnormal heart rhythm is life-threatening. 


left anterior descending artery

The largest coronary artery supplying the heart muscle.      


lifestyle factors, lifestyle risk factors        

Lifestyle factors, sometimes called lifestyle risk factors or modifiable risk factors, are behaviours or choices that we make that can affect our chances of developing a disease. The lifestyle factors that can increase your chances of developing cardiovascular disease are smoking/vaping, drinking alcohol, unhealthy diet, being overweight or obese, and a lack of physical activity.  



An umbrella term to describe fats in the blood. Lipids include cholesterol and triglycerides.

myocardial infarction

The medical term for a heart attack.


Inflammation of the heart muscle (myocardium). Commonly caused by viruses.


A pacemaker is a small device that is put under the skin on your chest, usually below your collar bone (clavicle). It has one or more wires that connect to your heart’s chambers. A pacemaker produces small electrical currents that stimulate your heart to pump regularly.



A feeling like your heart is racing, pounding, fluttering or like you have missed heartbeats. Palpitations can last seconds, minutes or longer. You might feel palpitations in your chest, neck or throat. Palpitations are common and, in most cases, harmless. Sometimes they can be a symptom of an underlying heart condition.


patent foramen ovale

A type of congenital heart condition where there is a hole between the left and right atria (upper chambers) of the heart. Normally, this hole exists in everyone before birth but closes shortly after being born. Most people with a patent foramen ovale do not have any symptoms or complications.


percutaneous coronary intervention

A type of procedure to restore the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart.



Inflammation of the outer lining of the heart (pericardium). Commonly caused by viruses.


peripheral arterial disease  

A disease of the arteries supplying blood to the arms and legs. Can cause leg pain when walking (claudication) because there isn’t enough blood and oxygen reaching the legs.



Consists of fat, cholesterol, cells and other substances.

Plaque can build up in the arteries and cause them to narrow and stiffen. This reduces the flow of oxygen-rich blood around the body. When there is a build-up of plaque in the coronary arteries, this is called coronary heart disease.


postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS)

A condition that causes symptoms like dizziness and a fast heart rate when getting up from sitting or lying down.



A condition of pregnancy involving high blood pressure, protein in the urine (pee) and a build-up of fluid.

Pre-eclampsia is a risk factor for heart disease. Women with a history of pre-eclampsia need regular monitoring of their blood pressure and their heart disease risk.  

rheumatic heart disease     

A serious heart condition caused by acute rheumatic fever. The heart valves become inflamed and damaged, so they don’t open or close properly. If untreated, rheumatic heart disease can cause heart failure.

risk factor

Any factor that increases the statistical likelihood of a condition.

spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD)

A condition where a tear or split suddenly occurs in the layers of one or more arteries in the heart (coronary arteries). This can reduce the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart, causing a heart attack. More commonly affects women than men.        


A class of medicines that help to lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in your blood.

ST elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI)

Refers to a type of heart attack, based on the changes seen on an ECG.

stent insertion

A small mesh tube is inserted into a coronary artery so oxygen-rich blood can reach the heart muscle. Always performed at the same time as angioplasty as a treatment for coronary heart disease.

stress test/exercise stress test      

An ECG performed on a treadmill or stationary bike, to see how the heart is working during physical activity.

For people who are unable to exercise, a stress test can also be performed using a medicine that mimics the effect of exercise on the heart.


A condition where brain cells die due to a lack of oxygen-rich blood. Can be caused either by a blocked artery (ischaemic stroke) or a burst artery (haemorrhagic stroke).


A faster than normal heart rate – usually anything above 100 beats per minute. 

 takotsubo cardiomyopathy

A heart condition where the left ventricle (lower chamber) changes shape and doesn’t pump as well as it should. Takotsubo cardiomyopathy can develop after an intense physical or emotional event.


A procedure to remove blood clots from an artery (or vein) to restore the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart. A treatment for heart attack or stroke.


A type of treatment for people who are having a heart attack, where medicines dissolve the blood clot blocking the coronary arteries. Also used to dissolve clots in the brain’s arteries in people who are having a stroke.

 transcatheter aortic valve replacement (transcatheter aortic valve implantation TAVI)

A type of surgery to replace a damaged heart valve without the need for open-heart surgery.

transient ischaemic attack

A condition where blood supply to the brain is reduced temporarily. Symptoms are the same as for a stroke but disappear after a short time. A person who has had a transient ischaemic attack is at higher risk of stroke.

 transoesophageal echocardiogram (TOE)

A type of ultrasound that provides a close look at the heart’s valves and chambers. During the test, an ultrasound probe is guided down a person’s throat into the oesophagus. This gives a clearer view of the heart because the ribs and lungs aren’t in the way.


The most common type of fat (lipid) found in the blood. High levels of triglycerides in the blood can increase the risk of coronary heart disease.


triple vessel coronary heart disease

A type of coronary heart disease where all three major blood vessels that supply the heart with oxygen-rich blood have a blockage.


vascular dementia   

A type of dementia caused by a reduced flow of blood and oxygen to the brain over time. This causes damage to the brain tissue. The risk factors for vascular dementia are the same as for heart disease.



The two lower chambers of the heart.

warning signs

Refers to the symptoms and signs commonly experienced by people who are having a heart attack.


Last updated07 June 2024