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21 Questions for Your Heart Doctor

Older woman talking to her doctor
August 12, 2014 (Updated: February 21, 2019)
Lily Moran

Do you prepare for visits to your heart doctor? Or do you just show up and wing it?

I hope you answered, “Yes!” to the first question, because having a dialogue with your doctor can be an educational experience with big benefits for your health.

It also lets your doctor know that you are interested in participating in your health care. Your doctor should be more willing to discuss alternatives and options when they know that you are not going to unquestioningly follow their advice.

How do you prepare for an appointment with a cardiologist? Know before you walk into the appointment what new information you want to have before you walk out.

If you’re seeing a cardiologist for the first time here are some questions to ask:

  • What type of heart disease do I have? (If the name is something you’re not familiar with, ask the doctor to spell it.)
  • What causes this particular condition? Is it hereditary?
  • Am I at risk for a heart attack or stroke? What symptoms should I watch for in either case?
  • What can I do to avoid making the condition worse?
  • Is there a specific diet or eating plan you recommend?
  • Do I need medication or can it be managed with lifestyle changes?
  • Are there nutrients or other types of integrative solutions – Coenzyme Q10, for example, or omega-3 essential fatty acids – that can help?
  • Should I exercise, and, if so, what would be appropriate?
  • What is my prognosis?
  • Do you foresee a need for surgery?
  • What symptoms would be valid reasons to call an ambulance?

If you’re going for a follow-up visit for an existing condition, you can also ask:

  • Has my health improved since the last visit, and, if so, how? If not, what can I do to turn that around?

If you are prescribed drugs, ask these questions before starting to take them:

  • What is this drug for specifically, and how does it work?
  • Is it better to take with or without food?
  • Does this drug interact with alcohol or any foods?
  • What are the side effects?
  • How am I going to feel when I take this?
  • How long does it take to work?
  • Is this drug physically addictive?
  • What happens if I miss a dose or run out and suddenly stop taking it?
  • Is there a point where I will be able to discontinue this medication?

Now here are additional key suggestions on how you can get the most from your doctor’s visit.
First, get a small notebook (or use your smart phone, if you have one) and keep track of anything that’s been on your mind regarding your heart health, as well as any unusual symptoms you may be experiencing.

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For example, if you have occasional chest pains, record the details – where you were when it happened, what you were doing, what you ate or drank recently, etc.

Details like this are far more helpful to a physician than just saying you have chest pains once in a while. And having a written record helps you remember to ask while you’re in the office.

If you’re embarrassed about using a “cheat sheet” for questions, remember – patients who are prepared get more information on the first visit, while those who think they’ll remember everything usually leave with more questions than they started with.

Second, here’s a way to avoid the “what was I supposed to do?” post-appointment confusion that so many patients experience. Write down the instructions!

Very often, people are so stressed out during examinations or when receiving instructions that they don’t retain the information that is shared with them. So take notes. Or ask your physician if you can record the conversation on your smart phone or if you can get printed instructions to take home. Then review the instructions after the appointment to make sure you have the whole story.

If you’re not very good at taking notes, don’t forget that you can bring someone to your appointments with you to act as an advocate. A spouse, friend, or even an adult child has a vested interest in your health and wellbeing, and they can ask questions, help you remember symptoms, and sometimes they know more about how you’ve been sleeping or eating than you do.

Finally, either take all of your medication (prescription and over-the-counter) and all of your supplements (vitamins, herbs, etc.) with you, or take along a detailed list, so your doctor can make an informed decision about adding or subtracting medication.

Once you and your physician are on the same page, you’ll find communication becomes easier – your goal should be to create a partnership with your doctor so you’ll be better informed and can manage your health better.

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