Make sure you understand the words and phrases your doctor uses when discussing your diagnosis and treatment.
Like any medical condition, heart disease has its own vocabulary and jargon. And if you’re not paying attention, you may become a bit lost when your cardiologist starts explaining your condition and your treatment options.
Cleveland Clinic cardiologist Curtis Rimmerman, MD, author of The Cleveland Clinic Guide to Speaking with Your Cardiologist, says that misunderstandings can occur for a variety of reasons. In some cases, physicians may use a more clinical term for something that is known to patients by a different name.
A typical example is “myocardial infarction”. It refers to a sudden loss of blood flow to the heart muscle caused by a clogged artery. You probably know that condition better by another name: heart attack.
Because clarity is so important in understanding your condition, diagnostic testing, treatment options, medications and other aspects of your health, Dr. Rimmerman urges you to make sure you understand everything your doctor says. Write it down if that helps and have a conversation with your healthcare provider if there are any doubts.
“You, as a patient, should repeat back what you heard to your doctor, seeking affirmation that you fully comprehend what was explained to you,” Says Dr. Rimmerman. “This ‘teach back’ strategy can be very helpful and highlight areas in need of additional clarification.”
Heart Health Glossary
To help you feel a little more confident the next time you and your cardiologist discuss your health, here are some key words and phrases that sometimes get confusing:
Angioplasty / Stenting: These words often go together, but they are two distinct procedures. Angioplasty, sometimes called “balloon angioplasty” is a procedure in which a doctor threads a thin catheter into a blocked artery. At the point of the blockage a tiny balloon attached to the catheter expands and pushes the blockage to the wall of the artery to help improve blood flow. The balloon is deflated and the catheter is withdrawn.
For some patients, that’s enough to keep the artery open. But often, a more permanent solution is needed. So a stent, a flexible, mesh tube, is placed around the balloon. When the balloon is inflated, the stent opens. the balloon is deflated and withdrawn, but the stent stays in place.
Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) / Coronary Artery Disease (CAD): You may hear these terms used interchangeably. And in many respects, there isn’t a great difference between them. They both refer to a narrowing of the heart’s arteries caused by plaque buildup. You might think of CHD as the result of CAD. CAD could be viewed as the long-term process of plaque forming in your coronary arteries, while CHD is a condition that results from years of plaque buildup.
Palpitations / Arrhythmia: When your heart beats rapidly, strongly or irregularly due to anxiety, illness or exertion, you’re having palpitations. when your heart beats abnormally because of a physical problem, such as heart disease or an imbalance of electrolytes, the problem is an arrhythmia. Examples of arrhythmias include atrial fibrillation and supraventricular tachycardia.
Mitral valve insufficiency or mitral valve regurgitation: They both refer to a condition in which your heart’s mitral valve can’t close tightly and blood can leak back from the left ventricle into the left atrium. It’s also sometimes called mitral incompetence. You might also hear it referred to as a “leaky” valve.
Congestive heart failure / fluid around the heart: Heart failure doesn’t mean the heart has stopped working. It means that it’s weaker than normal, so blood doesn’t move as quickly throughout the body. Fluid can then build up in the legs, lungs, arms and organs. This fluid build-up means the body is congested, hence the phrase “congestive heart failure” or CHF.
However, don’t confuse the phrase “fluid around the heart” with CHF. Fluid building up around the heart usually means you have pericarditis, which is inflammation of the pericardium, the thin membranous sac that surrounds the heart. One layer of the pericardium usually contains a little fluid. When the pericardium becomes inflamed, too much fluid can build up. This is only one of several complications related to pericarditis.
Cardiac Hypertrophy / heart muscle thickening: These two phrases are used interchangeably. While some thickening of the heart muscle is normal and natural during pregnancy or exercise, abnormal thickening can lead to arrhythmias and heart failure.
Courtesy of “Heart Advisor Magazine” November 2015 Issue