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Medical Terminology Daily (MTD) is a blog sponsored by Clinical Anatomy Associates, Inc. as a service to the medical community, medical students, and the medical industry. We will post a workweek daily medical or surgical term, its meaning and usage, as well as biographical notes on anatomists, surgeons, and researchers through the ages. Be warned that some of the images used depict human anatomical specimens.

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A Moment in History

Thomas Willis, MD
Thomas Willis
(1621-1675)

An English physician and anatomist, Willis was born on his parents' farm in Great Bedwyn, Wiltshire, where his father held the stewardship of the Manor. He was a kinsman of the Willys baronets of Fen Ditton, Cambridgeshire. He graduated M.A. from Christ Church, Oxford in 1642. In the Civil War years he was a royalist, and was dispossessed of the family farm at North Hinksey by Parliamentary forces. In the 1640's Willis was one of the royal physicians to Charles I of England. He obtained his medical degree in 1646.

Thomas Willis might well be one of the greatest physicians of the 17th century.He is one of the founders of the Royal Society of London. He is remembered by his many publications, especially "Cerebri Anatome: Cui accessit Nervorum Descriptio et Usu", where he describes the arterial anastomoses at the base of the brain. This work is also the first detailed description of the vasculature of the brain. Willis described nine cranial nerves.

He is considered as the father of Neurology as a discipline. He used the term "neurology" for the first time in 1664. He described several neurological conditions

The Arterial Circle of Willis is a famous eponymous structure found at the base of the brain. It represents an anastomotic roundabout that connects the right and left sides as well as the carotid and vertebral arterial territories that supply the brain. Named after Thomas Willis, this structure was known well before him, but it was Willis who described its function.  If you click on the image or here, you will be redirected to a detailed description of this structure.

Sources:

1. "The legendary contributions of Thomas Willis (1621-1675): the arterial circle and beyond" Rengachary SS et al J Neurosurg. 2008 Oct;109(4):765-75
2. "Thomas Willis, a pioneer in translational research in anatomy (on the 350th anniversary of Cerebri anatome)" Arraez-AybarJournal of Anatomy, 03/2015, Volume 226, Issue 3
3. " The naming of the cranial nerves: A historical review" Davis, M Clinical Anatomy, 01/2014, Volume 27, Issue 1
4. "Observations on the history of the circle of Willis". Meyer A, Hieros, R.Med Hist 6:119–130, 1962


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Atrial fibrillation

What is atrial fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is one of the most common heart conditions, affecting 4% of the adult population. Characterized by a rapid, irregular heartbeat, AFib is largely due to abnormal electrical impulses that cause the atria of the heart to quiver when it should be beating steadily. Blood flow is reduced and is not completely pumped out of the two small upper chambers of the heart, the atria.  This negatively impacts cardiac performance and also allows the blood to pool and potentially clot. At rest, a normal heart rate is approximately 60 – 100 beats per minute.  In a person with AFib, that heart rate can skyrocket to 180 bpm or even higher.  Thorough testing by your health care provider can spot abnormalities in the heart's rhythm before any obvious symptoms are noticed.

What are the symptoms?

EKG - Atrial Fibrillation, courtesy Dr. Randall K Wolf
Click on the image for a larger view

Whether it is caused by stress, exercise, or too much caffeine, most people experience a racing heart from time to time.  Most cases are harmless, but AFib is a serious medical condition that may often be long lasting.  Some people with AFib experience no symptoms at all.  But for others,  AFib may cause:

    Exercise intolerance
    Fatigue
    Severe shortness of breath
    Chest pain
    Palpitations
    Light-headiness

What causes atrial fibrillation?

Your heart is divided into four chambers: the two upper chambers called atria, and two lower chambers called ventricles. In order for blood to be pumped through your body, a group of specialized cardiac cells, the conduction system of the heart,  sends electrical impulses to the atria that tells your heart to contract. Contractions of the heart send approximately five quarts of blood through your body every minute. In people with AFib, however, the impulses are sent chaotically. The atria quiver instead of beat; the blood isn't completely pumped out and may pool and potentially clot.

Are you at risk?

Your chances of developing AFib increase with age.  AFib occurs more commonly in women than in men.  According to the Framingham Heart Study (http://circ.ahajournals.org/cgi/content/full/110/9/1042), AFib is associated with a higher risk of death for women than for men. You are also at greater risk of developing AFib if you suffer from an overactive thyroid, high blood pressure, a prior heart attack, congestive heart failure, valve disease or congenital disorders.

Diagnosis

AFib can sometimes be diagnosed with a stethoscope during an exam by a doctor or other health care provider and is confirmed or diagnosed with an electrocardiogram (EKG). There are several types of EKG’s. They are:

Resting EKG – Electrical activity in the heart is monitored when a person is at rest.
Exercise EKG – Activity is monitored when a person jogs on a treadmill or exercises on a stationary bike.
24-hour EKG (Holter Monitor) – A person wears a small, portable monitor that detects activity over the course of a day.
Transtelephonic event monitoring – A person wears a monitor for a period of a few days to several weeks. When AF is felt, the person telephones a monitoring station or activates the monitor's memory function. This type of EKG is particularly useful in detecting AF that occurs only once every few days or weeks. Unfortunately this type of monitor does not record heart events while you are sleeping.

The image on this article is a typical EKG AFib recording showing the flutter of the atria followed by the ventricular contraction. In the larger image (click on the image of the article) you can see how this fluttering of the atria causes an abnormal spacing of the ventricular contractions which some patients feel in their chest.

PERSONAL NOTE:Dr. Wolf will lecture on a seminar on this topic on April 21st, 2018 in Houston, TX. For more information on this event and on AFib, click here.

Thanks to Dr. Randall Wolf for the image and links