Glossary of Terms

Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor: A drug that blocks an enzyme from producing a hormone called angiotensin II. Angiotensin II causes narrowing, or constriction, of the arteries. Examples of ACE inhibitors are drugs that end with “-pril,” like enalapril.

Angiotensin Receptor Neprilysin Inhibitor (ARNI): A drug that helps the body to get rid of extra salt and water. Helps people to live longer and reduces hospitalizations to treat heart failure. Examples of ARNI’s are: Entrusto (Sacubitril/Valsartan)

Arrhythmia: An irregular heartbeat rhythm that can originate in the upper chambers (atria) or lower chambers (ventricles) of the heart.

Atrial fibrillation: A heartbeat disorder that causes the upper chambers (atria) to fail to beat in rhythm, resulting in an irregular and sometimes fast heartbeat.

Beta blocker: A medication that blocks or reduces the effect of hormones on the body. A beta blocker can slow the heartbeat and have other beneficial effects on the heart.

Cardiomyopathy: A general term meaning there is something wrong with the heart (cardio) muscle (myopathy). When the cause is known, another term may be added—for example, viral cardiomyopathy (heart muscle damage from a virus) or hypertensive cardiomyopathy (damage from high blood pressure or hypertension). Dilated idiopathic cardiomyopathy refers to a heart that is enlarged (dilated) and weak and the cause is unknown (idiopathic).

Congestive heart failure (CHF): The term or diagnosis used commonly in the past to describe heart failure. Because not all patients with heart failure are congested, the term “heart failure” is preferred today.

Coronary artery disease (CAD): CAD is a disease caused by blocked or clogged heart arteries leading to poor blood supply to the heart.

Diastole: The relaxing of the heart muscle as it fills up with more blood and prepares for the next heart contraction, or squeeze (see systole).

Diastolic heart failure: Occurs when the heart is not able to rest between heartbeats. This happens because the heart muscle has become stiff. The main cause of this type of heart failure is high blood pressure.

Echocardiogram (echo): A test that uses ultrasound to look at the size, structure and function of the heart.

Edema: Fluid under excessive pressure that leaks out of the blood vessels and gets into the tissue. Edema is commonly seen in the lower legs and also in the tissues of the lower back and belly. When this fluid leaks into the lung tissue, it can be heard through a stethoscope; this is called “crackles” or “rales.”

Ejection fraction (EF): A measure of heart function, ejection fraction is the amount of blood pumped out of the ventricles. Normal on the left side is about 50 to 60%. If your EF is 30%, it is one-half of the normal level.

Electrolytes: A blood test that measures sodium, potassium and chloride. This test is required and repeated frequently if you are on a drug that decreases potassium (e.g., furosemide, or water pill) or increases potassium (e.g., spironolactone).

Heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF): When this occurs, the problem usually is with abnormal relaxation of the heart muscle, often related to high blood pressure. In this type of heart failure, the ejection fraction is normal.

Hemoglobin A1C (HbA1C or A1C): This non-fasting test measures the per cent of glucose, or sugar, that has “stuck” to your red blood cells over the past three months or 120 days. These levels of HbA1C are used to diagnose diabetes: normal = HbA1C at 6.0% or less; pre-diabetes = HbA1C at 6.1 to 6.4%; and diabetes = HbA1C at 6.5% or more.

Multigated angiogram (MUGA): A nuclear imaging test that helps determine the ejection fraction, or pumping ability of the heart.

Myocardial infarction (MI): The medical term for a heart attack. The cause is a blocked coronary artery that prevents the blood supply from reaching the heart muscle.

Orthopnea: The sensation that breathing is difficult when you lie flat. The doctor may ask you how many pillows you need to lie in bed comfortably without being short of breath.

Paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea (PND): Dyspnea is the sensation that one is short of breath. PND is the sensation of shortness of breath that occurs suddenly (paroxysm) at night (nocturnal). People with heart failure accumulate extra fluid that is pushed into the tissues (feet, legs and belly) during the day. At night, when a person lies down, this extra fluid can cause congestion, because fluid backs up into the lungs. Typically, PND occurs 30 to 60 minutes after lying down. A patient may wake up coughing and gasping, and he or she may have to sit on the side of the bed.

Systole: The contraction of the heart as it squeezes the blood out of the ventricles (two main lower pumping chambers) and to the major organs and tissues of the body.

Systolic heart failure: A pumping problem in which the left side of the heart does not pump enough blood to the organs of the body. This is due to a weak muscle.

Target weight: Refers to a “dry” weight, when there are no signs of fluid retention in the tissues. Often the discharge weight from hospital can be used as a guide.

Books and Online Resources

Library & Resources: Check out the Heart Institute’s Prevention & Wellness Centre library located on the Second floor.

Book: Success with Heart Failure: Help and Hope for Those with Congestive Heart Failure. Mass Market Edition. Marc A. Silver. Cambridge, Mass.: Da Capo Press, 2006.

Try These Websites

University of Ottawa Heart Institute

Canadian Heart Failure Network

  • Click on “Patients and Caregivers”

American Association of Heart Failure Nurses

  • Click on “Patient Education”

Heart Failure Society of America

  • Click on “Education” > “HF Educational Modules on Heart Failure”

Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada

  • Click on “Health Information” > “Healthy Living”

Diabetes Canada
Champlain Local Health Integration Network, Diabetes Services
YouTube video (15 min.): Living with Heart Failure: A Guide for Patients (from HFSA)

A Final Reminder

  • Remember to weigh yourself every morning.
  • Do not stop or change any medications without talking with your doctors first.
  • Remember to avoid foods high in salt, such as Chinese food, fully dressed pizza, salted snacks, seasoning salts, and canned and processed foods. Limit your fluid intake to 8 cups per day. 
  • Walking is one of the best exercises you can do to improve your health

Women's Heart Health


Men and women can be very different when it comes to matters of the heart, and that’s just as true for matters of heart health. Heart disease is RISING among women. The good news is that the majority of risk factors that cause heart disease such as smoking, diabetes, physical inactivity, high blood pressure, high stress levels and high cholesterol can be controlled or treated.

If you are receiving this booklet from the University of Ottawa Heart Institute and have been diagnosed with heart disease, we highly recommend that you participate in one of our cardiac rehabilitation program options, including our Women at Heart Program, after your discharge from hospital. This simple step can significantly decrease the chances of a future cardiac event and improve your chances of leading a healthy life in your future. This includes women who have had a heart attack, had a stent inserted, had heart surgery or a heart disease diagnosis, such as SCAD (Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection). Even if you have had a treatment for your heart disease, you still have heart disease and would greatly benefit from attending our rehabilitation program after your treatment.

DID YOU KNOW? After a heart attack, heart surgery or a heart disease diagnosis, attendance in a cardiac rehab program can reduce the chances of you being re-admitted to hospital by 31%! It also lowers your mortality by 25% (Cdn. Guidelines for Cardiac Rehabilitation and CVD Prevention, March 2009). Despite this clear benefit, women are only half as likely as men to attend and adhere to the program. Many women don’t know they are at risk after an event or even after a treatment they received. That can change beginning right now, with you.


  • Know your risk factors. It’s never too late to start making healthy changes.
  • When in doubt, check it out! Call 911 or seek immediate medical care if you think you are having any possible heart related symptoms.
  • Attend a free cardiac rehabilitation program (on-site and home program options available)
  • Join the Women at Heart Program: led by women with heart disease for women with heart disease

The Heart Institute’s Canadian Women’s Heart Health Centre aims to provide leadership in the development, implementation and evaluation of cardiovascular prevention and management strategies to improve women’s cardiovascular health.

For more information or to enrol in a program right now please call: 613-696-7068

You can also visit our website for more information: Visit or to learn more about the programs we offer for heart disease prevention and support!

Heart Institute Patient Alumni

 Patient Alumni logoWe Can Help. We Have Been There.

The Patient Alumni are a diverse community of current and former University of Ottawa Heart Institute patients and their families, friends and caregivers. We gratefully support the Institute by sharing information on advancements in the prevention and treatment of heart disease and by designating funds towards projects and services that improve patient comfort and care.

By joining the Alumni, you will become part of a very unique community!

The Heart Institute is the only hospital in Canada that has formed an alumni group to stay in contact with discharged patients and their families. For over 40 years, the Heart Institute has delivered worldclass care to thousands of patients. As Alumni members, we wish to stay in touch, stay informed, and contribute to the Institute’s quality of care and future success.

Why Join the Alumni?

Alumni membership is free of charge, thanks to the partnership and financial support of the Heart Institute and its fundraising Foundation.

As an Alumni member, you’ll get up-to-date information through our:

  • e-letters
  • Websites
  • Lectures, courses and special events

For more information and access to free membership, visit our website,

Or contact us at:
Telephone: 613-696-7241