Heart and Cardiovascular Diseases:Questions to Ask
While your doctor usually asks the questions during an office visit, you can take charge by asking your physician the right questions. Being proactive can make a big difference in the way you’re able to manage your heart or cardiovascular disease. Your health is important both to you and to your doctor, so don’t hesitate to ask questions about your diagnosis, your medications for heart or cardiovascular disease, complementary or alternative therapies, emotional issues, financial concerns about your treatment, or diet or lifestyle.
Engaging in a dialogue with your doctor will help educate you about heart and cardiovascular disease and the treatment options available to you, and it’ll give your doctor a better sense of who you are and how heart or cardiovascular disease is affecting your overall health and your life. With the lines of communication open, you and your doctor will be able to develop the best treatment plan for you.
But remember, your time with your doctor is limited, so be sure to arrive at your appointment prepared and ready to discuss the questions about heart and cardiovascular disease that are important to you. Start by:
• Researching heart and cardiovascular disease.
• It’s a good idea to get a better understanding of heart disease and cardiovascular disease before your appointment. Through research, you may even be able to answer some of your own questions. Strategizing.
• Your family doctor may not be able to answer all your questions about heart or cardiovascular disease; some may be better addressed by a cardiologist or vascular surgeon who specializes in treating people with heart and cardiovascular diseases. Discuss this with your doctor, and follow up with a visit to a specialist, as directed by your doctor. You can also do additional research of your own.
• Keeping records. Consider keeping a journal about your heart and cardiovascular concerns between visits to the doctor, and share any relevant information with your doctor — that is, details about chest pain, fatigue, the effectiveness of your medications, and anything else you think is relevant. Additionally, taking notes during your appointments will help you remember important details after your visit. Alternatively, you may consider bringing a recording device or inviting someone to accompany you and take notes.
General Heart and Cardiovascular Disease Questions
Symptoms vary depending on what kind of heart or cardiovascular disease you have, but informing your doctor of any chest pain, shortness of breath, or pain or numbness in your limbs could save you from having a heart attack, stroke, or worse. If you haven’t yet been formally diagnosed with heart or cardiovascular disease, and you suspect that you have symptoms, talk to your doctor about arranging a cardiac evaluation.
Once you have a formal diagnosis and know which type of heart or cardiovascular disease you have, your doctor will give you information about the condition and recommend a course of treatment. You'll probably have questions and concerns about your diagnosis and how heart or cardiovascular disease will affect your overall health and your life. Consider asking your doctor the following:
• I have a family history of heart disease; how might that affect my health?
• Are there any pretest restrictions I need to know about? For example, do I need to fast if I’m going to have a cholesterol test?
• What form of heart or cardiovascular disease do I have? What is the severity? What is my prognosis?
• What does high blood pressure (hypertension) have to do with heart and cardiovascular disease? Should I be concerned about high blood pressure? Do I need to lower my blood pressure? If so, how?
• What role does cholesterol play in heart and cardiovascular disease? Do I have high cholesterol? Do I need to lower my cholesterol? If so, how?
• What role does diabetes play in heart disease? Do I have diabetes? Do I need to lower my blood sugar? If so, how?
• What caused my heart condition? Did I do something to cause it? Is heart disease a hereditary condition?
• Am I at risk for a heart attack? What symptoms would indicate a heart attack?
• What is the best method of treatment for my heart or cardiovascular disease?
• What are the risks of not treating my heart or cardiovascular disease?
• How will my heart or cardiovascular disease affect me over the long term?
• Do I need surgery for my cardiovascular disease? Will I need surgery in the future?
• What should I do if my symptoms worsen?
Medications and Treatments for Heart and Cardiovascular Diseases
Your doctor may prescribe medication to treat your heart or cardiovascular disease. It is important that you understand the medication regimen your doctor is prescribing. Ask your doctor about it, read the insert the pharmacy includes with your prescription, and take the medication as directed by your physician. Knowing how your medication is supposed to work will help you evaluate its effectiveness and whether it’s the right medication for you. Here are some questions you may want to ask your doctor about heart and vascular medications:
• Do I need medication, or can I be treated effectively without it?
• What type of drug are you prescribing for me, and how does it work?
• How often and for how long will I need to take this medication?
• Where can I get more information about this drug?
• How will this medication make me feel, and how will I know if it’s working?
• When can I expect an improvement in my condition?
• What are the risks if I don’t take my medication as directed, or if I forget to take it?
• Has this medication been tested in people with heart disease? Are there any recent research studies on it?
• What should I do if I experience any side effects? Are there any that may require me to call a doctor? Are there any that may require me to stop taking the medication immediately?
• Is this drug habit-forming?
• Can I take this on an empty stomach, or should it be taken with food?
• Could this medication interact with other medications I’m taking?
• Are there any foods, drinks (such as alcohol), vitamins, herbal supplements, or over-the-counter drugs that I should avoid while taking this medication?
• Can other conditions affect or be affected by my medication?
• Should I take a daily aspirin to prevent a heart attack?
Additional Questions for Women to Ask
• Can taking birth control pills or using the birth control patch increase my risk for heart disease?
• How will menopause affect my risk for heart disease?
• Would taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) decrease my risk for heart disease?
Cardiac Care Specialists
Your doctor may recommend that you see certain specialists regarding your heart or cardiovascular condition. You may need to see a cardiologist or vascular surgeon to discuss treatments, procedures, and medications; a physical or occupational therapist for rehabilitation; or a dietitian to help you learn how to eat well and stay heart smart.
• Are there other specialists I should consider seeing, such as a cardiologist, a vascular surgeon, or a dietitian?
• Do I need cardiac rehabilitation? If so, what can you tell me about that?
In addition to affecting your body, heart and cardiovascular diseases can take a toll on your emotional health. These conditions can cause depression, frustration, anger, fear, anxiety, and loneliness, and these feelings can sometimes get in the way of your recovery or affect your future cardiac health. Your doctor can help you find ways to cope with the emotional stress of heart and cardiovascular disease, manage your symptoms, and handle the impact your condition is having on your well-being. Ask for a referral to a counselor, a psychotherapist, or a support group, and find out what else you can do to improve your emotional health while living with heart or cardiovascular disease:
• Should I seek emotional support from a counselor, a psychotherapist, or a support group?
• How should I explain my condition to my spouse, family, and friends? What, if anything, should I say to my boss and co-workers?
• How is my condition likely to affect my relationships, and what can I do to improve my situation?
• Will heart disease affect my sex life? If so, how?
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
There are also alternative treatments, such as dietary supplements, that you may consider. Ask your doctor if any of these options might be beneficial for you:
• Do you recommend any herbs or other supplements — such as coenzyme Q10, flaxseed, oats and oat bran, or omega-3 fatty acids?
• Are there any complementary or alternative therapies I should consider?
• Do any clinical trials or research support these complementary or alternative therapies?
Health and Lifestyle Concerns
Participating in a physical fitness regimen, following a balanced diet, getting adequate rest and sleep, quitting smoking, moderating your alcohol consumption, and avoiding substance abuse of any kind all contribute to overall good health. And maintaining a healthy lifestyle can have a direct impact on improving your heart health. Ask your doctor whether you need to make any lifestyle changes to better manage your heart or vascular condition:
• Do I need to make any changes in diet or exercise or how much I rest?
• Would exercising more make my condition worse, or would it help improve it?
• Would losing weight help me?
• Can drinking alcohol, smoking, or using drugs affect my condition?
• Should I make any special accommodations for school, home, or my work?
• Can you recommend any books, magazines, organizations, or online resources that focus on heart health?
The costs associated with your heart or cardiovascular disease treatment will probably affect your finances. It’s crucial to find ways to balance your physical health with your financial health. Ask your doctor about ways in which you may be able to offset the cost of your treatment, and follow up with a representative from your insurance company, as necessary:
• Will my medication, surgery, or rehabilitation be covered by my health insurance plan?
• About how much will my medication, surgery, or rehabilitation cost?
• Is there a generic version of the medication that would be more affordable? If not, are there other, equally effective medications that are available as generics?
• Do you have any samples or discount coupons for my prescription?
• What are the risks of delaying surgery or opting out of it for financial reasons?
• If I choose a complementary or alternative therapy, is it likely to be covered by my insurance? If not, what kind of out-of-pocket costs can I expect?
• What are my options if I don’t have health insurance?
Print the full list of heart and cardiovascular disease questions to take to your doctor. more