Preparing for your appointmentBy Mayo Clinic staff
If you're having a heart attack, it will usually be diagnosed in an emergency setting, rather than at a doctor's appointment. However, if you're concerned about your risk of having a heart attack, make an appointment with your doctor to check your risk factors and talk about preventing a heart attack. Eventually, however, you may be referred to a heart specialist (cardiologist).
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 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 a cholesterol test, 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 coronary artery disease that could cause a heart attack.
- 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.
- 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 of 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 may be limited, so preparing a list of questions can help you make the most of your time together. During a visit to your doctor to discuss heart attack prevention, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
- What kinds of tests do I need to determine my current heart health?
- What foods should I eat or avoid?
- What's an appropriate level of physical activity?
- How often should I be screened for heart disease? For example, how often do I need a cholesterol test?
- I have other health conditions. How can I best manage these conditions together?
- Are there any brochures or other printed material that I can take home with me?
- What websites do you recommend visiting for more information?
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask additional questions that may come up during your appointment.
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 begin experiencing symptoms that might make you think you have heart disease, such as chest pain or shortness of breath?
- Do you have these symptoms all the time or do they come and go?
- How severe are your symptoms?
- What, if anything, seems to improve your symptoms? If you have chest pain, does it improve if you rest?
- What, if anything, appears to worsen your symptoms? If you have chest pain, does strenuous activity make it worse?
- Do you have a family history of heart disease or heart attacks?
- Have you been diagnosed with high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol?
What you can do in the meantime
It's never too early to make healthy lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, eating healthy foods and becoming more physically active. These are primary lines of defense against having a heart attack.
- Heart attack. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/heartattack/printall-index.html. Accessed March 21, 2013.
- Crawford MH, ed. Current Diagnosis & Treatment: Cardiology. 3rd ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2009. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=8. Accessed March 22, 2013.
- Field JM, et al. Part 1: Executive summary - 2010 American Heart Association guidelines for cardiopulmonary resuscitation and emergency cardiovascular care. Circulation. 2010;122(suppl):S640.
- Understand your risk of heart attack. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/UnderstandYourRiskofHeartAttack/Understand-Your-Risk-of-Heart-Attack_UCM_002040_Article.jsp. Accessed March 23, 2013.
- O'Gara PT, et al. 2013 ACCF/AHA Guideline for the Management of ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction: Executive Summary: A Report of the American College of Cardiology Foundation/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. Circulation. 2013;127:529.
- Reeder GS, et al. Overview of the acute management of ST elevation myocardial infarction. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed March 22, 2013.
- Thygesen K, et al. Third universal definition of myocardial infarction. Circulation. 2012;126:2020.
- Stefanini GG, et al. Drug-eluting coronary-artery stents. New England Journal of Medicine. 2013;368:254.
- Alcoholic beverages and cardiovascular disease. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/Alcoholic-Beverages-and-Cardiovascular-Disease_UCM_305864_Article.jsp. Accessed March 22, 2013.