Early-stage coronary artery disease often produces no symptoms, so you may not discover you're at risk of the condition until a routine checkup reveals you have high cholesterol or high blood pressure. So it's important to have regular checkups.
If you're seeing your doctor because you're having symptoms or you have risk factors for coronary artery disease, you're likely to start by first seeing your primary care doctor or a general practitioner. Eventually, however, you may be referred to a heart specialist (cardiologist).
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 cholesterol test, 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 coronary artery disease.
- Write down your key medical information, including other conditions with which you've been diagnosed, all medications and supplements you're taking, and any family history of heart disease.
- Find a family member or friend who can come with you to the appointment, if possible. Someone who accompanies you can help remember what the doctor says.
- Write down questions to ask your doctor.
Questions to ask your doctor at your initial appointment include:
- What are the possible causes for my signs and symptoms?
- What tests do I need?
- Should I see a specialist?
- Should I follow any restrictions while I wait for my next appointment?
- What emergency signs and symptoms should prompt a call to 911 or emergency medical help?
Questions to ask if you are referred to a cardiologist include:
- What is my diagnosis?
- What is my risk of long-term complications from this condition?
- What treatment do you recommend?
- If you're recommending medications, what are the possible side effects?
- Am I a candidate for surgery? Why or why not?
- What diet and lifestyle changes should I make?
- What restrictions do I need to follow, if any?
- How frequently will you see me for follow-up visits?
- I have these other health problems. How can I best manage them together?
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
A doctor or cardiologist who sees you for heart-related signs and symptoms may ask:
- What are your symptoms?
- When did you first begin experiencing symptoms?
- Have your symptoms gotten worse over time?
- Do your symptoms include chest pain?
- Have you had any difficulty breathing?
- Does exercise or physical exertion make your symptoms worse?
- Are you aware of any history of heart problems in your family?
- Have you been diagnosed with any other health conditions?
- What medications are you currently taking?
- Have you ever been treated with radiation therapy?
- How much do you exercise in a typical week?
- What's your typical daily diet?
- Do you or did you smoke? How much?
- Do you drink alcohol? How much?
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 coronary artery disease and its complications, including heart attack and stroke.
Jun. 29, 2012
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