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 know you have symptoms of or risk factors for coronary artery disease, you're likely to see your primary care doctor or a general practitioner. Eventually, however, you may be referred to a heart specialist (cardiologist).
Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment and to know what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
- Be aware of any pre-appointment restrictions. When you make the appointment, ask if there's anything you need to do in advance, such as restrict your diet. For some tests, for example, you may need to fast for a 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 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 these conditions together?
Don't hesitate to ask additional questions about your condition.
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 begin experiencing symptoms?
- Have your symptoms gotten worse over time?
- Do you have chest pain or difficulty breathing?
- Does exercise or physical exertion make your symptoms worse?
- Are you aware of heart problems in your family?
- Have you been diagnosed with other health conditions?
- What medications are you 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? If you quit, when?
- 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.