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A Glossary of Heart Failure Terms

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Atherosclerosis ("hardening of the arteries"): The process whereby abnormal deposits of lipids, cholesterol, and plaque build up, leading to coronary artery disease and other cardiovascular problems.

Atria: The upper chambers of the heart. (Atrium refers to one chamber of the heart).

Atrial Fibrillation (AF): Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heart rhythm in which many impulses begin and spread through the atria. The resulting rhythm is disorganized, rapid, and irregular and the atria are not able to fully empty their contents into the ventricles.

Atrial Flutter: Atrial flutter is a regular heart rhythm in which many impulses begin and spread through the atria. The resulting rhythm is organized, but so rapid that the atria are not able to fully empty their contents into the ventricles.

Atrial Myxoma: A myxoma is a benign tumor of the heart. It resides in the atrial chamber and causes symptoms when its growth produces a tumor so large it obstructs blood flow through the heart chambers. Treatment of atrial myxoma is surgical removal of the tumor.

Atrial Septal Defect: An abnormal hole located in the walls between the two atria. Tiny defects called patent foramen ovale are present in up to 30% of people and are of no consequence except in unusual circumstances. Moderate size to larger size defects should be corrected and may require heart surgery, though there are now devices that can close the hole without open heart surgery.

Atrioventricular (AV) Node: A group of special cells located near the center of the heart that helps to regulate the heart rhythm. Here, the electrical current slows for a moment before going on to the ventricles.

Atrium: The top chamber of the heart. There are two atria -- the left and the right, divided by a muscular wall, called the septum. The atrium contracts before the ventricle to allow optimal filling of the ventricle.

Balloon Angioplasty (Percutaneous Transluminal Coronary Angioplasty or PTCA): A procedure used to clean out clogged heart arteries. A specially designed balloon catheter with a small balloon tip is guided to the point of narrowing in the artery. Once in place, the balloon is inflated to compress the fatty matter into the artery wall and stretch the artery open to increase blood flow to the heart.

Batista Procedure: During this surgical procedure to treat heart failure, the surgeon cuts out a piece of the patient's enlarged left ventricular muscle. The intent is to reduce the size of the left ventricular cavity, improve left ventricular function, and reverse congestive heart failure. Studies have shown that this procedure is ineefective.

Beta-Blocker: A drug that slows heart rate, lowers blood pressure, controls angina, and protects patients with prior heart attacks from future heart attacks.

Bicuspid Valve: A valve with two leaflets (cusps) instead of three.

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