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How to jump start your next doctor visit to improve heart health

Image of patient consulting her doctor
August 4, 2020 (Updated: August 1, 2021)
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 shows that you are interested in participating in your health care and you realize that your time together can be an educational experience with big benefits for your health.

Plus, doctors are generally more willing to discuss alternatives and options when they know that you are not going to unquestioningly follow their advice.

Advanced Preparation is Essential

So, how should you prepare for an appointment with a cardiologist?

It’s simple.

The best way to prepare is to know ahead of time what new information you want to walk away with from your next appointment.

And, depending on which stage of the relationship you find yourself in with your doctor, those questions should differ. 

Here’s a list of questions to ask your doctor and recommended tips to make the most out of your next visit to your cardiologist. 

What to Ask at Your First Visit

If you’re seeing a cardiologist for the first time, here are some questions you might want to ask your doctor:

  • 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 (CoQ10), 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?

Follow-up Questions Are Important

Follow-up visits are different, but no less significant. There will be fewer questions, but each visit will deepen your patient-physician relationship.

When going for a follow-up visit for an existing condition, you might find it helpful to ask:

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

What to Ask When You’re Given Meds

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?

More Ways to Maximize Your Visit

Now here are additional key suggestions on how you can get the most from your doctor’s visit.

Take Notes to Heart

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.

Record Your Next Steps

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 well-being, 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.

Read From the Same Playbook to Win

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.

Take good care.

Disclaimer: Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

Last Updated: August 4, 2020
Originally Published: August 12, 2014

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