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Heart Failure, Learning a New Language

Last updated: May 2021

In 10th grade biology, my teacher, Ms. L, made us read Latin and Greek word roots and their meaning every day to start the class. I didn't realize how helpful this would be outside of biology.

After being diagnosed with heart issues, I felt like I had to learn a new language. A lot of new and big words. Then I started to notice some of those roots from 10th-grade biology class. While this isn't the master key, here are some common words used in our conditions.1-2

Anatomy of the heart

Any time you hear a word that contains 'Myo,' it refers to muscle. 'Cardio' means relating to the heart. Putting these together - Myocardium – refers to the muscle tissue of the heart.

'Endo' means within, and Endocardium is the inner lining of the heart. 'Peri' means 'near or around.' The pericardium is the sac that is around the heart

If we add it 'Itis', which means inflammation, a common diagnosis called myocarditis describes inflammation of the heart muscle. Pericarditis is inflammation around the heart, and endocarditis is inflammation of the heart lining.

Heart attack terms

'Infarction' describes tissue death due to lack of blood supply. Myocardial infarction is a death of the heart (card) muscle (myo) due to inadequate blood supply.

'Angina' is derived from the Latin verb 'angere,' which means 'choke or throttle.' Angina is pain stemming from the narrowing or choking of the blood vessels.

A STEMI stands for T-Elevation Myocardial Infarction. This is a heart attack showing an elevated ST-segment on the EKG. When there is ST elevation, it indicates complete blockage of the coronary arteries supplying your heart.

The N in NSTEMI stands for non-ST segment elevation myocardial infarction and could indicate a partially blocked artery.


Our blood pressure always shows two numbers, systolic and diastolic. 'Diastole' is derived from the Greek word diastole, which means 'drawing apart.' In our hearts, diastole is the relaxation of the heartbeat when the heart fills with oxygenated blood.

'Systole' came from the Greek systole meaning 'drawing together or contracting,' and for our hearts is the contracting of the heartbeat which pushes the oxygenated blood out into our arteries.

'Hypo' means low or below; 'hyper' is high or over; 'tension' means pressure. Putting all of this together, hypertension is high blood pressure, and hypotension is low blood pressure.


Some of us experience arrhythmia issues.

'Brady' means slow (not to be confused with Tom Brady, who is not slowing down). Pairing with cardia, bradycardia means a slow heartbeat. 'Tachy' means fast or rapid, and tachycardia is a fast or rapid heartbeat.

'Supra' means above or over, so supraventricular tachycardia describes an abnormally fast heartbeat that happens above the ventricle, in the atria.

Diagnostic testing

'Electro' refers to electricity, and 'gram' is a picture. An electrocardiogram creates a picture of the electrical activity of your heart.

'Angio' refers to the vessel, so an angiogram creates a picture of your blood vessels.

'Echo' refers to sound, and an echocardiogram creates a picture of your heart using sound waves (ultrasound).

Deciphering the diagnosis

Most medical terms have been derived from both Latin (anatomy) and Greek (clinical terminology). While it is overwhelming to hear these new words and/or read them, make sure you ask your care team for explanations if you are not clear. If all else fails, look at the roots of the words to determine what they are describing.

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