At your wellness visits, it is often your doctor who is the one asking all of the questions, and you are the one providing responses. However, it is not only acceptable, but expected that today's patients take a pro-active stance and ask some questions of your own. In particular, when it comes to your heart health being proactive can make a huge difference. By starting a discussion together, your doctor can educate you about your heart, heart disease, and how you can best keep your heart healthy. Here are 5 questions to ask your doctor about heart health.
There are numerous risks for heart disease. Some are non-modifiable, meaning they cannot be changed, while others are modifiable. Non-modifiable risk factors include your age (older adults, particularly over the age of 65, are at a much greater risk), your gender (men are more likely to experience heart disease than women), and your family history. Modifiable risks include things such as smoking, blood pressure, cholesterol, obesity, inactivity, and diabetes. Talk to your doctor about identifying your risks. Being at a healthy weight does not, for instance, mean you may not have high cholesterol or hypertension. So it's important to run through the appropriate tests during your annual physical and make sure that some of these "invisible" risk factors are brough to light.
How Can I Reduce My Risk?
Understanding your risk factors is a key factor in being able to reduce your risk. While you can’t change your non-modifiable risks (age, gender, family history), there are things you can do about your modifiable risks, and your doctor can help you. Your doctor may recommend ways to manage your blood pressure and cholesterol through a combination of lifestyle changes and medications. It's also, as we all know, important to achieve and maintain a healthy weight and stay active if your conditions allow for you to do so safely. Your doctor may be able to recommend a dietician, nutritionist, trainer, or other diet and fitness support personnel to help you achieve your wellness goals while you work toward a healthier heart and a healthier you.
What Symptoms Should I Be Aware Of?
There are several symptoms that you should be aware of that can point to heart-related problems. One of the most common is having pain or tightness in the chest. While common, it is important to know that not everyone experiences this symptom, especially women. Other symptoms include difficulty breathing, nausea and/or vomiting, lightheadedness, fatigue, edema (swelling caused by a buildup of fluid in your tissues), confusion, and rapid heartbeat. These are signs something is seriously awry, and you should seek medical attention immediately.
What Treatment Options are Available?
Heart disease covers a broad spectrum of different heart-related conditions, and therefore the treatments for these conditions vary. Treatments may include lifestyle changes (which also helps to reduce your risk of other issues such as stroke), which may include changes in diet and physical activity, taking medications, or utilizing implantable devices (such as stents), or even surgery. If you are living with heart disease, your doctor will discuss what options are available to you, and which ones will provide you with the best results.
Menopause brings about many changes for women. One of the biggest changes is that estrogen levels drop significantly. When they do, a woman’s risk for heart disease increases. Post-menopausal women are at greater risk for high blood pressure, increased bad cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes (the body becomes resistant to insulin), weight gain, and abnormal heart rhythms (atrial fibrillation). Symptoms of heart problems often manifest themselves differently in women. Women are less likely to experience the chest pressure typically associated with a heat problem. Instead, they are more likely to experience lightheadedness, dizziness, exhaustion, nausea, and pressure in the upper back.
If you do live with a heart condition, it is important that you wear a medical ID bracelet or necklace. Your medical ID should contain your name, an emergency contact, your heart condition, what medications you take, and any allergies or drug interactions you have. This way, in the event of an emergency, your loved ones can be contacted, and you can be treated safely and effectively.