If you're having sudden chest pain (unstable angina), call 911 or your local emergency number right away.
If you think you may have recurring angina because your symptoms are brief and only occur during exercise, or you're worried about your angina risk because of a strong family history, make an appointment with your family doctor. If angina is found early, your treatment may be easier and more effective.
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be prepared for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
- Be aware of any pre-appointment restrictions. At the time you make the appointment, be sure to ask if there's anything you need to do in advance, such as restrict your diet. For a blood test to check your cholesterol or other indicators of heart disease, for example, you may need to fast for a period of time beforehand.
- Write down any symptoms you're experiencing, including any that may seem unrelated to angina.
- Write down key personal information, including any family history of angina, chest pain, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure or diabetes and any major stresses or recent life changes.
- Make a list of all medications, vitamins or supplements you're taking.
- Take a family member or friend along, if possible. Sometimes it can be difficult to remember all of the information provided to you during an appointment. Someone who accompanies you may remember something that you missed or forgot.
- Be prepared to discuss your diet and exercise habits. If you don't already follow a diet or exercise routine, be ready to talk to your doctor about any challenges you might face in getting started.
- Write down questions to ask your doctor.
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions will help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For angina, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
- What's the most likely cause of my symptoms?
- Are there any other possible causes?
- What kinds of tests will I need? How do I need to prepare for these tests?
- What treatments are available, and what do you recommend?
- What foods should I eat or avoid?
- What's an appropriate level of physical activity?
- I have other health conditions. How can I best manage these conditions together?
- How often do I need to follow up with you about my angina?
- Is there a generic alternative to the medicine you're prescribing me?
- Are there any brochures or other printed material that I can take home with me? What websites do you recommend visiting?
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions. Being ready to answer them may reserve time to go over any points you want to spend more time on. Your doctor may ask:
- When did you first begin experiencing symptoms?
- Is it pain? Discomfort? Tightness? Pressure? Sharp? Stabbing?
- Where is the pain located? Is it in a specific area or more generalized?
- Does the pain spread to your neck and arms? How and when did the pain start? Did something specific seem to trigger the pain? Does it start gradually and build up or start suddenly?
- How long does it last?
- What makes it worse? Activity? Breathing? Body movement?
- What makes it feel better? Rest? Deep breath? Sitting up?
- Do you have other symptoms with the pain, such as nausea or dizziness?
- Do you have trouble swallowing?
- Do you often have heartburn? (Heartburn can mimic the feeling of angina.)
What you can do in the meantime
It's never too early to make healthy lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, eating healthy foods and becoming more physically active. These are primary lines of defense against angina and its complications, including heart attack and stroke.
Jul. 12, 2013
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- Stock EO, et al. Cardiovascular disease in women. Current Problems in Cardiology. 2012;37:450-526.
- Angina in Women Can Be Different Than Men. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/WarningSignsofaHeartAttack/Angina-in-Women-Can-Be-Different-Than-Men_UCM_448902_Article.jsp. Accessed May 18, 2013.
- Kannam JP, et al. Overview of the care of patients with stable ischemic heart disease. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed May 18, 2013.
- Meisel JL, et al. Differential diagnosis of chest pain in adults. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed May 18, 2013.
- Jneid H, et al. 2012 ACCF/AHA focused update of the guideline for the management of patients with unstable angina/Non-ST-elevation myocardial infarction (updating the 2007 guideline and replacing the 2011 focused update): A report of the American College of Cardiology Foundation/American Heart Association Task Force on practice guidelines. Circulation. 2012;126:875.