If you think you may have heart failure, or you are worried about your heart failure risk because of other underlying conditions, make an appointment with your family doctor. If heart failure 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 know 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 some imaging tests, 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 heart failure.
- Write down key personal information, including a family history of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure or diabetes, and any major stresses or recent life changes. Find out if anyone in your family has had heart failure. Some heart conditions that cause heart failure run in families. Knowing as much as you can about your family history can be important.
- Make a list of all medications, vitamins or supplements that you're taking.
- Take a family member or friend along, if possible. Sometimes it can be difficult to remember all 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 heart failure, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
- What's the most likely cause of my symptoms?
- Are there other possible causes for my symptoms?
- What kinds of tests will I need? Do these tests require any special preparation?
- What treatments are available? Which do you recommend for me?
- What foods should I eat or avoid?
- What's an appropriate level of physical activity?
- How often should I be screened for changes in my condition?
- I have other health conditions. How can I best manage these conditions together?
- Is there a generic alternative to the medicine you're prescribing for me?
- Do my family members need to be screened for conditions that may cause heart failure?
- 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 at any time that you don't understand something.
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 notice your symptoms?
- Do your symptoms occur all the time or do they come and go?
- How severe are your symptoms?
- What, if anything, seems to improve your symptoms?
- Does anything make your symptoms worse?
What you can do in the meantime
It's never too early to make healthy lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, cutting down on salt and eating healthy foods. These changes can help prevent heart failure from starting or worsening.
Aug. 16, 2013
- What is heart failure? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hf/. Accessed May 3, 2013.
- Papadakis MA, et al. Current Medical Diagnosis & Treatment 2013. 52nd ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2013. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=1. Accessed May 3, 2013.
- Lindenfield J, et al. 2010 HFSA Comprehensive practice guideline. Journal of Cardiac Failure. 2010;16:475.
- Heart failure. The Merck Manuals: The Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/cardiovascular_disorders/heart_failure/heart_failure_hf.html#v935853. Accessed May 6, 2013.
- Weintraub NL, et al. Acute heart failure syndromes: Emergency department presentation, treatment and disposition - Current approaches and future aims. Circulation. 2010;122:1975.
- Ramachandran SV, et al. Epidemiology and causes of heart failure. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed May 5, 2013.
- Schocken DD, et al. Prevention of heart failure: A scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2008;117:2544.
- Yancy CW, et al. 2013 ACCF/AHA guideline for the management of heart failure. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. [In press]. Accessed June 9, 2013. [date].
- Horwitz L, et al. Heart failure self-management. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed May 5, 2013.
- Riegel B, et al. State of the science: Promoting self-care in persons with heart failure — A scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2009;120:1141.
- U.S. News best hospitals 2012-2013. U.S. News & World Report. http://health.usnews.com/best-hospitals/rankings. Accessed Feb. 1, 2013.
- Grogan M (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.