A heart attack usually is diagnosed in an emergency setting. However, if you're concerned about your risk of heart attack, see your doctor to check your risk factors and talk about prevention. If your risk is high, you may be referred to a heart specialist (cardiologist).
Here's some information to help you prepare for your appointment.
What you can do
- Be aware of 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 a cholesterol test, for example, you may need to fast beforehand.
- Write down your symptoms, including any that seem unrelated to coronary artery disease.
- Write down key personal information, including a family history of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure or diabetes, and recent major stresses or recent life changes.
- Make a list of medications, vitamins and supplements you're taking.
- Take someone along, if possible. Someone who accompanies you may remember something you miss or forget.
- Be prepared to discuss your diet and exercise habits. If you don't follow a diet or exercise routine, be ready to talk to your doctor about challenges you might face in getting started.
- Write down questions to ask your doctor.
Preparing a list of questions can help you make the most of your time with your doctor. Some basic questions to ask your doctor about heart attack prevention include:
- What tests do I need to determine my current heart health?
- What foods should I eat or avoid?
- What's an appropriate level of physical activity?
- How often should I be screened for heart disease?
- I have other health conditions. How can I best manage these conditions together?
- Are there brochures or other printed material that I can have?
- What websites do you recommend?
Don't hesitate to ask other questions, as well.
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions, including:
- Have you had symptoms of heart disease, such as chest pain or shortness of breath? If so, when did they begin?
- Do these symptoms persist or come and go?
- How severe are your symptoms?
- What, if anything, seems to improve your symptoms? If you have chest pain, does it improve with rest?
- What, if anything, worsens your symptoms? If you have chest pain, does strenuous activity make it worse?
- Do you have a family history of heart disease or heart attacks?
- Have you been diagnosed with high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol?
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 having a heart attack.
Nov. 15, 2014
- What is a heart attack? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/heartattack/printall-index.html. Accessed Sept. 12, 2014.
- Reeder GS, et al. Criteria for the diagnosis of acute myocardial infarction. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Sept. 12, 2014.
- Heart attack answers and questions. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/Heart-Attack_UCM_001092_SubHomePage.jsp. Accessed Sept. 12, 2014.
- 2014 Hands-Only CPR fact sheet. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/CPRAndECC/HandsOnlyCPR/Hands-Only-CPR_UCM_440559_SubHomePage.jsp. Accessed Sept. 14, 2014.
- Lifestyle changes for heart attack prevention. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/PreventionTreatmentofHeartAttack/Lifestyle-Changes-for-Heart-Attack-Prevention_UCM_303934_Article.jsp. Accessed Sept. 14, 2014.
- Crawford MH, ed. Current Diagnosis & Treatment: Cardiology. 3rd ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2009. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=8. Accessed Sept. 14, 2014.
- Pahlm O, et al. Multimodal Cardiovascular Imaging: Principles and Clinical Applications. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2011. http://accessmedicine.mhmedical.com/content.aspx?bookid=382&Sectionid=40663674. Accessed Sept. 14, 2014.