Common Heart Terms

When you come to the Heart Institute at UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, you might hear words you don't know.

We've defined some common heart terms below.

Children's Heart Conditions

  • Arrhythmia. Any change in the normal rate or rhythm of your child's heartbeat.
  • Atresia. The absence of an opening where one should be in the body. This heart defect is present at birth.
  • Bacterial Endocarditis or BE. An infection of the inner lining of the heart or heart valves.
  • Cardiomyopathy. A disease that weakens the heart muscle. It has many different causes.
  • Cyanosis. Blueness of the lips, nail beds, and skin. It occurs when the blood doesn't have enough oxygen.
  • Edema. An excess of fluid in the body tissue. It can cause swelling anywhere in the body but mostly occurs in the ankles, belly, feet, or eyelids.
  • Enlarged Heart. A heart problem that sometimes causes the heart muscle to work very hard. Like the body muscles of weightlifters, an overworked heart muscle becomes bigger or enlarged.
  • Heart Failure. Occurs when the heart can't effectively pump blood through the body and lungs. This may cause swelling (edema) in the body of extra fluid in the lungs.
  • Heart Murmur. An unusual noise as the blood moves through the heart that doctors can hear with a stethoscope. There are two kinds of murmurs. An innocent murmur is a harmless sound in kids with normal hearts. A structural murmur is a sign of a heart problem, which may or may not be serious.
  • Insufficiency. A heart valve problem that causes blood to leak or flow backward (see regurgitation).
  • Myocardial Infarction. A heart attack or damage to part of the heart muscle caused by blocked blood flow to that area. It's rare in kids with heart disease.
  • Myocarditis. A swollen heart muscle often from a viral infection.
  • Pericarditis. An inflammation of the thin, elastic sac around the heart.
  • Pulmonary Edema. An excess amount of fluid that collects in the lungs and makes it hard to breathe. Heart failure may lead to this condition.
  • Pulmonary Hypertension. A condition that occurs when the pressure in the lung's blood vessels is too high.
  • Regurgitation. The backward flow of blood through a heart valve that isn't working as it should (see Insufficiency).
  • Stenosis. An abnormal narrowing or tightening of a valve or blood vessel.

The Parts of the Heart

  • Artery. Any large blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the various parts of the body.
  • Atria. The two upper chambers on the left and right of the heart.
  • Atrium. This is the singular form of atria and refers to one of the heart's two upper chambers.
  • Endocardium. The thin lining that covers the inside of the heart.
  • Pericardium. The thin elastic-like sac that covers the outside of the heart.
  • Myocardium. The heart's muscle that pumps blood.
  • Septum. A wall of muscle in the middle of the heart that divides it into a left and right side.
    • The upper part (atrial septum) divides the right and left atria.
    • The lower part (ventricular septum) separates the right and left ventricles.
  • Valves. Parts of the heart that act as one-way doors, so blood flows in the right direction. There are four major heart valves: mitral, tricuspid, aortic, and pulmonary. A birth defect or disease like rheumatic fever or endocarditis may be the cause of valve problems.
  • Vein. Any blood vessel that carries blood from the body to the heart.
  • Ventricles. The two lower right and left chambers of the heart.

Heart Tests and Treatments Your Child May Need

Your child will have the following procedures in the heart catheterization lab at UPMC Children's Hospital:

A catheter is a long, thin hollow tube that we insert into a blood vessel during a heart catheterization.

  • Ablation. A special catheter (cath) passes radiofrequency energy inside the heart to disrupt abnormal electrical pathways. We use this technique to treat heart rhythm problems.
  • Balloon Atrial Septostomy (Rashkind Technique). We use a special cath with a deflated balloon at its tip. We inflate the balloon and pass the cath through a hole in the wall between the heart's two upper chambers. In most cases, this technique increases the size of the hole and helps your baby get more oxygen-rich blood. We then deflate the balloon and remove the cath.
  • Balloon Angioplasty. We use the same type of cath as the Rashkind technique above. We insert it into a narrowed blood vessel and carefully blow up the balloon. This opens the narrowed part of the blood vessel and improves blood flow. We then deflate the balloon and remove the cath.
  • Balloon Valvuloplasty. This procedure also uses a cath with a deflated balloon at its tip. We place it into the opening of a narrowed heart valve and carefully inflate the balloon to stretch open the valve. Afterward, we deflate the balloon and remove the cath.
  • Occlusion. We use a cath that lets us place various devices to block patent ductus arteriosus, atrial septal defect, or other abnormal connections.
  • Pacemaker (Artificial). A small battery-operated device that sends electrical impulses to the heart muscle when the heart is beating too slowly. Pacemakers may be a short-term or permanent treatment.
  • Stent. We use a cath to implant this device into a narrowed blood vessel to make it wider.

More Heart Terms

  • Blood Pressure (BP). The pressure of the blood flowing in the arteries.
  • Diastolic BP. The bottom number in a BP reading. It measures the pressure of blood in the arteries when the heart muscle rests between each beat.
  • Systolic BP. The top number in a BP reading. It measures the pressure of the blood when the heart muscle contracts with each beat.