May 18, 2018

Angina, Echo, Murmur – Wait, What’s That Mean? Cardiovascular Terms Demystified

While angina, murmurs and heart attacks are widespread, sadly, confusion about their meanings is also common. Let’s take a closer look at six misunderstood terms.

“Since the internet can be overwhelming, your doctor is your best resource,” said Sarah Ciccotto, MD, cardiologist at Asheville Cardiology Associates, an affiliate of Mission Health.

  1. Angina – This term refers to any heart-related symptoms including chest pressure, chest or arm pain, or shortness of breath. “Stable” angina is predictable and treated with nitroglycerin. When symptoms increase or happen with less activity, angina is “unstable” and deserves a call to your doctor.
  2. Heart murmur – The swooshing sound of blood flowing through the heart is known as a heart murmur. Often discovered using a stethoscope, a heart murmur can be normal or it can signal something more. An echocardiogram test can reveal new information.
  3. Heart failure – This term refers to when your heart either doesn’t pump or relax well enough to meet the body’s oxygen demands. Common symptoms are shortness of breath, and leg and ankle swelling. Symptoms can be managed and improve greatly with medicine and dietary changes.
  4. Heart attack – A heart attack is an emergency when the heart muscle is starved of oxygen. A blocked artery prevents oxygen-rich blood from reaching the heart and causes permanent damage. “Since every minute counts, call 911, if you think you’re having a heart attack,” said Dr. Ciccotto.
  5. Echocardiogram (echo) – An echocardiogram (echo) uses sound waves to create pictures of your heart and valves. These images provide your doctors more information about your heart and most often can be done in your doctor’s office.
  6. Stent – A stent is a small metal scaffold inserted into an artery to prop it open and restore blood flow through blocked vessels.

“It’s important to help patients understand what’s happening with their bodies. Often I can relieve their concerns by simply answering questions,” said Dr. Ciccotto.


Sarah Ciccotto, MD, is cardiologist at Asheville Cardiology Associates, an affiliate of Mission Health.

To learn more, visit mission-health.org/heart.