Talking to Your Doctor About Heart Disease Symptoms

Heart disease affects millions of people, and in many cases, it’s preventable and treatable. By talking to your doctor about heart disease, you can take an important step in managing your health.

Not sure where to start? Find out how to describe your symptoms and talk with your doctor about prevention and treatment options.


8 Key Signs of Heart Disease

The signs of heart disease can be different for each person and can include:

  • Chest pain or pressure, which may come and go
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fluttering in the chest (also called palpitations)
  • Fatigue, or feeling very tired
  • Cough, especially a dry cough
  • Anxiety
  • Swelling in your feet or ankles
  • Fast weight gain

Whether you’re a man or a woman, and no matter how old you are, it’s important to talk to your doctor about any symptoms you feel.

And remember, if you think you or someone else is having a heart attack, don’t wait — call 911 right away. A heart attack is a medical emergency and can be deadly if left untreated. Paramedics are trained to treat people on the way to the hospital and offer the fastest, safest way to get there.

How to Describe Heart Disease Symptoms to Your Doctor

Before visiting your doctor, make a list of your symptoms. You’ll also want to write down:

  • How your symptoms feel. For example:
    • If you have chest pain; it may be sharp or dull, searing or aching, heavy, or tight.
    • You may feel like your heart is racing, pounding, fluttering, or skipping beats.
  • How often you have symptoms, like all the time, when you do certain activities, or at a certain time of day.
  • What makes your symptoms worse, like walking, climbing stairs, or lying down at night.
  • What makes your symptoms better, like lying down, sitting up, or resting.
  • If you feel pain or pressure in other parts of your body, like your jaw, neck, arms, or back.
  • If you’ve had any changes in your abilities. For example, if your usual evening walk with your dog leaves you short of breath or your regular activities leave you feeling more tired than usual, tell your doctor about this.

Talking About Your Risk Factors with Your Doctor

In order to prevent heart disease, you need to know what puts you at risk for getting it. Men and women share many risk factors for heart disease, including:

  • Age
  • Family history
  • Medical conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Having an unhealthy diet that is high in saturated fats, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, and sugar
  • Being physically inactive

Risk factors for women also include:

  • Starting your menstrual period at a young age or going through menopause at a young age
  • Being post-menopausal
  • Having pregnancy-related conditions like gestational hypertension, gestational diabetes, or preeclampsia

During your visit with your doctor, ask about:

  • Your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels, whether they’re healthy, and how often you need to have them checked
  • Your weight, and if it is in a healthy range
  • How you can make healthy lifestyle changes, like quitting smoking, choosing healthier foods, and getting more physical activity
  • What health screenings you need to keep an eye on your risk factors

Asking About Heart Disease Treatment Options

Depending on your symptoms and risk factors, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes or other treatments, like medicines or various procedures. Before you start your treatment plan, make sure you understand everything that you’re supposed to do (and not do) in order to make the most of your treatment.

Even though it might seem simple, the following questions are always good to ask:

  • What is my diagnosis?
  • What changes do I need to make to my lifestyle?
  • Do I need medicine?
  • Does this medicine have side effects? What should I do if I have side effects?
  • Do I need further testing?
  • When should I start to feel better?
  • How soon should I come back for a check-up?

To learn more, visit the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute or call 1-855-UPMC-HVI (876-2484).