My encounter with hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy

Blog 1 Mar 24, 2024

The universe dealt me an interesting hand recently – one that would make some claim that the universe has a sense of humour (I belong to this category). You see, I was recently appointed as the University Associate Professor of Fluid-Structure Interaction at the Department of Engineering in the University of Cambridge. At the same time, I experienced an illness, which had at the base – you guessed it – fluid-structure interaction, and which nearly threatened my life. I was thoroughly amused and thrilled by it because of the connection to fluid-structure interaction. Here I share with the rest of the world my amusement, and also take the opportunity to raise awareness about this disease.

The underlying disease is called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). Here hyper + trophy means “the excess growth of” and cardiomyopathy means “pathological heart muscles”. As the name suggests, under HCM the heart muscles grow thicker than normal. The disease has genetic origins, so I felt as if I had won the genetic lottery. In my case, the disease progressed to a level where blood flow in the heart was obstructed and cardiac surgery was recommended. I am currently recovering from this surgery.

The log covers a variety of aspects surrouding this disease and my experience with it. These include:

  1. 1.

    an introduction to HCM,

  2. 2.

    the fluid-structure origin of obstruction to blood flow,

  3. 3.

    the diagnosis tools used,

  4. 4.

    the medication and surgical treatment,

  5. 5.

    the mental health consequences I experienced,

  6. 6.

    the consequence of health-care policy,

  7. 7.

    open research questions.

Some topics are more personal, while others are more technical. Starting today, I plan to post one blog per week (for about 6 more weeks, or until I have nothing meaningful to say).

In today’s day and age, I hasten to add that the purpose of this log is not to influence anyone or sell any product. About 1 in 500 people experience symptoms because of HCM. There are many resources surrounding HCM publicly available, but these resources focus predominantly on the medical aspects. I found it difficult to learn about the exact mechanism underlying HCM that could help me make life decisions. Aspects of diet and mental health are rarely mentioned. Given the prevalence of HCM, I hope that my experience will help others in a similar situation.

At no point do I want to suggest that I am an expert on the disease. I am not a medical doctor. Nor do I claim certainty on the fluid-structure mechanics component that underlies it. HCM exhibits a large range of diversity, and no single simple description can adequately express the nuances within it. Only an expert with substantial experience can adequately advice patients. The purpose of his log is to share what I understand, my best educated opinion, which will be incomplete but I hope valuable nonetheless. Please do send feedback and reference material to me if you find any inaccuracies – I will be happy to incorporate your suggested corrections in the document, with credit to you (or anonymously, if you so wish). You can find my contact info on my personal website. Connection over LinkedIn is welcome.

Most of this log is written for a general audience. These include my family, friends and anyone interested in (or suffering from) hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Comprehension of one (or two) chapters requires some technical background, specifically the knowledge of the Bernoulli equation and the Venturi effect. The general idea can be understood even if these super specialized sections can be skipped. Throughout the log, there are boxes that describe my personal experiences through this disease. The boxes look like the following:

My story

You can read about my experiences in boxes like this one.

The ultra-technical parts are separated into boxes that look like this:

Technical details[Uncaptioned image]

Skip this box if technical details do not interest you.