The language of medicine is oftentimes more difficult to understand than a foreign language.  At BestHeartInfo.com we understand how important it is for patients and their families to be able to communicate with their healthcare providers to gain a better understanding of their medical issues.   We have had many requests for a primer on the language that cardiovascular physicians use to describe common findings on the coronary angiogram, consequently, the list that follows will give patients and their families a basic understanding of the terms commonly used to describe cardiovascular disease on angiogram.

Angiogram: An x-ray of blood vessels which can be seen because the patient receives an injection of contrast dye in a vein to outline the vessels on the x-ray.

Angiography: A procedure performed to view blood vessels after injecting them with a contrast dye that outlines them on x-ray. This technique can be used to look at arteries in many areas of the body, including the brain, neck (carotid arteries), heart, aorta, chest, pulmonary artery, kidney arteries, gastrointestinal tract, and limbs.

Angioplasty: Procedure in which a balloon-tipped catheter is used to enlarge a stenosis(narrowing) in a coronary artery. Also called Percutaneous Transluminal Coronary Angioplasty (PTCA).

Artery: A vessel that carries blood high in oxygen content away from the heart to the rest of the body.

Atherectomy: A procedure for opening up an artery by removing the plaque (blockage) produced by the build-up of cholesterol and other fatty substances in the inner lining of the artery from atherosclerosis (“hardening of the arteries”). Atherectomy is done most often in major arteries — such as the coronary arteries within the heart muscle and the carotid and vertebral arteries leading up to the head and brain — that have experienced the occlusive effects of atherosclerosis.

Heart Cath and Balloon Angioplasty

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Balloon angioplasty:Coronary angioplasty is accomplished using a balloon-tipped catheter inserted through an artery in the groin or arm to enlarge a narrowing in a coronary artery. Coronary artery disease occurs when cholesterol plaque builds up (atherosclerosis) in the walls of the arteries to the heart. Angioplasty is successful in opening coronary arteries in 90% of patients. 40% of patients with successful coronary angioplasty will develop recurrent narrowing at the site of balloon inflation.


Bypass: An operation in which a surgeon creates a new tubular pathway around stenosis(blockage) to “bypass” blocked coronary arteries.

CAD: coronary artery disease. CAD is a major cause of illness and death. It begins when hard cholesterol substances (plaques) are deposited within a coronary artery. These arteries arise from the aorta adjacent to the heart and supply the heart muscle with blood that is rich in oxygen. They are called the coronary arteries because they encircle the heart in the manner of a crown.


Catheter: A thin, flexible tube. For example, a catheter placed in a vein provides a pathway for giving drugs, nutrients, fluids, or blood products. Samples of blood can also be withdrawn through the catheter.

Contrast: Short for “contrast dye.” Contrast dyes are used to provide contrast, for example, between blood vessels and other tissue.  In combination with x-rays, contrast produces an outline of the bllod vessel so the physicians may see where the blockage is.

Coronary angiography: Currently, the most accurate method for evaluating and defining coronary artery disease (CAD). Coronary angiography is used to identify the exact location and severity of CAD.

Coronary arteries: The vessels that supply the heart muscle with blood rich in oxygen. They are called the coronary arteries because they encircle the heart in the manner of a crown. The word “coronary” comes from the Latin “corona” and Greek “koron” meaning crown. Like other arteries, the coronaries may be subject to arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). There are a number of coronary arteries. Those most often bypassed today include the right coronary artery, the posterior descending coronary artery, the left main coronary artery, the left anterior descending coronary artery and the left circumflex coronary artery. Plaques obstructing the coronary arteries may also be treated by balloon angioplasty, stents, and other techniques.

Left Main Coronary Artery:  One of 2 main coronary arteries.  The Left Main coronary arter supplies about 60% of the heart muscle with oxygenated blood.  It divides shortly after its origin into the Left Anterior Descending coronary artery and the Left Circumflex coronary artery.

Left Anterior Descending Coronary Artery:  The most important coronary artery which supplies the largest proportion of heart muscle with oxygenated blood.

Left Circumflex Coronary Artery:  Provides oxygenated blood to the left (lateral) side of the heart after separating from the left main coronary artery.

Right Coronary Artery and Heart Cath

Photo Credit: Wikimedia.org

Right Coronary Artery:  Supplies oxygenated blood to the right (and bottom) of the heart.

Coronary artery disease: A major cause of illness and death, coronary artery disease (CAD) begins when hard cholesterol substances (plaques) are deposited within a coronary artery.

Groin: In anatomy, the area where the upper thigh meets the trunk. More precisely, the fold or depression marking the juncture of the lower abdomen and the leg.

Heart: The muscle that pumps blood received from veins into the lungs to receive fresh oxygen, and then to the rest of the body. It is positioned in the chest behind the sternum (breastbone; in front of the trachea, esophagus, and aorta; and above the diaphragm muscle that separates the chest and abdominal cavities. The normal heart is about the size of a closed fist, and weighs about 10.5 ounces. It is cone-shaped, with the point of the cone pointing down to the left. Two-thirds of the heart lies in the left side of the chest with the balance in the right chest.

Heart attack: The death of heart muscle due to the insufficient blood supply. The loss of blood supply is usually caused by blockage of a coronary artery. Death of the heart muscle, in turn, causes angina(chest pain).

Pose Stent and Angiographic Terms

Photo Credit: Wikimedia.org

Infarction: The formation of an infarct, an area of tissue death due to a local lack of oxygen, usually caused by coronary artery blockage or blood clots.

Myocardial infarction: Also known as a heart attack. Abbreviated-“MI”.

Stent:A metal tube designed to be inserted into a blood vessel to prop it open.

X-ray: In low doses X-rays, in combination with contrast dye, are used for making images that help to diagnose blockage caused by atherosclerotic disease(hardening of the arteries), and in high doses to treat cancer.

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