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Glossary

Here’s a list of some of the commonly used medical terms you might hear if you have AF.1

Ablation – the surgical removal of material from a body part or organ.

Antiarrhythmic drugs – drugs used to restore the normal heart rhythm.

Anticoagulant – medication which reduces the ability of your blood to form the clots which may cause stroke.

Antithrombotic – another name for anticoagulant.

Antiplatelet – a medication that helps to reduce the ability of your blood platelets to stick together to form a clot.

Arrhythmia – heart rhythm disorder.

Arrhythmia Nurse Specialists – a nurse who is trained in heart rhythm disorders.

Atenolol – a drug belonging to the beta blocker group, which works by slowing down the heart and reducing its workload.

Atrial fibrillation (AF) – irregular heart rhythm.

Atrial flutter – a rhythm disorder characterised by a rapid but regular Atrial Rate but not as high as atrial fibrillation.

Bisoprolol – a drug belonging to the beta blocker group, which decreases the heart rate and blood pressure.

Cardiologist – a doctor who has specialised in the diagnosis and treatment of patients with a heart condition.

Cardioversion – a therapy to treat atrial fibrillation or atrial flutter which uses a transthoracic electrical shock to revert the heart back into a normal rhythm.

Catheter ablation – a treatment which creates scars a small area inside the atria to block the passage of the unwanted electrical charges in the heart which can cause AF.

Cholesterol – a fatlike substance produced by your liver and found in some foods. Raised levels of cholesterol are associated with the blocking of arteries in the body.

Cox maze III procedure – a type of open heart surgery for atrial fibrillation which includes a series of incisions – arranged in a maze-like pattern in the atria – to scar the heart tissue (which interrupts the abnormal electrical signals that cause irregular heartbeats). Also referred to as the ‘Maze procedure’.

Digoxin – a drug which helps the heart to beat stronger and with a more regular rhythm, often used in combination with beta blockers.

Diltiazem – a type of drug know as a calcium channel blocker, which slows down the rate at which calcium moves into the heart. This helps the blood vessels to relax and widen, improving blood flow, making it easier for the heart to pump blood around the body.

Dyspnea – a medical term for shortness of breath.

Echocardiogram – an image of the heart using echocardiography or soundwave-based technology. An echocardiogram (nicknamed “echo”) shows a three-dimensional shot of the heart.

Electrocardiogram – a representation of the heart’s electrical activity or ECG (sometimes EKG) in the form of wavy lines. An ECG is taken from electrodes on the skin surface.

Electrophysiologist (EP) – a cardiologist who has specialised in heart rhythm disorders.

Fibromuscular Dysplastia – a medical condition which can lead to the narrowing of arteries, especially in the brain and kidneys.

Heart Failure – the inability (failure) of the heart to pump sufficient oxygenated blood around the body to meet physiological requirements.

Metoprolol – a drug belonging to the beta blocker group, which decreases the heart rate, blood pressure and workload for the heart.

Mini maze procedure – a ‘mini’ version of the original maze procedure which is minimally invasive and so requires less recovery time.

PFO (Patent Foramen Ovule) or hole in the heart – an opening in between the two upper chambers (atria) of the heart.

Rate control of AF – a medical approach to treating atrial fibrillation which does not treat the AF itself, but rather attempts to slow the rapid ventricular response to the fibrillating atria (increased heart rate). Since a fast rate is what is most associated with symptoms, this provides symptomatic relief.

Rhythm – the pattern of cardiac activity. Strictly speaking, the heart has both a rate (how fast it beats) and a rhythm (the pattern of activity). Rhythm includes the ratio of atrial to ventricular activity.

Sinus rhythm – normal rhythm of the heart.

Stroke – a medical condition where the brain is deprived of oxygen. Blockage of blood flow can be created when a blood clot breaks free, travels through the circulatory system and gets lodged in a blood vessel in the brain to deprive a section of the brain of oxygen, causing brain cells to die. Strokes can vary in severity from transient (TIA) to very mild (some strokes can even go undetected) to severe and even fatal.

Syncope – a medical term for passing out from lack of oxygen going to certain areas of the brain.

Thrombosis – the forming of a blood clot inside a blood vessel which restricts the blood flow. In the brain a thrombosis can lead to a stroke.

Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) – sometimes referred to as a ‘mini stroke’ a TIA is an important predictor of stroke. The symptoms of a TIA typically resolve within 24 hours, unlike a stroke.

Verapamil – a type of drug know as a calcium channel blocker, which slows down the rate at which calcium moves into the heart. This helps the blood vessels to relax and widen, improving blood flow, making it easier for the heart to pump blood around the body.

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1. Atrial fibrillation patient information. Atrial Fibrillation Society. March 2010.