A cardiologist is a doctor who specializes in finding, treating, and preventing cardiovascular issues. Your primary doctor may refer you to a cardiologist if you’re at risk for cardiovascular disease, which can refer to a number of conditions such as heart disease, heart failure, stroke, or arrhythmia.1 You may also see a cardiologist after a heart attack or if you’re experiencing symptoms of heart disease. It can be overwhelming and often stressful when thinking about seeing a new physician, especially when it’s regarding your heart health. But, when you go into your cardiology visit prepared, you can feel more in control.
Learn More: How to Talk to Your Doctor About Heart Health
Prepare for Your Cardiology Appointment
Your appointment with your cardiologist is scheduled. Now what? There are a few things you can do before your appointment to ensure you get the most out of your visit:
- Make sure you’ve registered as a new patient in the cardiologist’s electronic portal, if requested to do so
- Get copies of your recent medical records and test results
- Make notes of your symptoms, when they occur, and what makes them better or worse
- Write out a list of your medications — include prescriptions, over-the-counter, vitamins, and supplements
- Compile a list of both personal and family health history
- Make a list of any questions you want to ask your doctor, such as:
- How does my family history affect my heart health?
- Is my blood pressure reading normal?
- What is my cholesterol level and how does this affect my heart?
- Am I experiencing a heart symptom due to my age, gender, or weight?
- Are my symptoms indicating a heart attack?
- Are my eating or exercise habits causing my heart symptoms?
- Is my level of stress/anxiety increasing my risk of heart complications?
- What are my treatment options for the heart symptoms I am having?
- What should I do if my symptoms persist?2
- Brush up on heart health terms
Meeting With Your Cardiologist
On the day of your appointment, be sure to arrive early to complete the necessary paperwork. Don’t forget to bring the information you gathered prior to your appointment! The more your cardiologist understands upfront, the better. Once you meet with your cardiologist, don’t rely on your memory alone — bring a notebook along so you can jot down important notes about information your cardiologist may provide.
Each appointment with your cardiologist has a different goal. Your first visit is a time to get to know your cardiologist and gain a better understanding of your heart health. Your doctor may:
Complete a Physical Exam
Your cardiologist will review your medical history and may perform a medical exam that could include weighing you, checking your blood pressure, testing your cholesterol or any other risk factors for heart disease.
Depending on the reason for your visit with the cardiologist, your doctor may require a range of medical or diagnostic tests. The more diagnostic information your cardiologist has, the better they can help you. It may feel overwhelming, but the tests can be vital to your diagnosis. Here are some tests your cardiologist might order:
- Blood tests
- Stress test (on the treadmill)
- Non-stress test (sitting in a chair)
- Nuclear stress test or echo stress test
- CT, PET, or MRI scan
- Coronary angiogram3
Recommend Treatments & Lifestyle Changes
Once your cardiologist has received all of your test and lab results, they will be able to create a treatment plan, which may include prescription medications, referral to a cardiovascular surgeon, and lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, exercising more, and eating healthier.
Ending Your Cardiology Visits
Your cardiology appointments may feel like a whirlwind of information overload. Before you leave, be sure that you have a full understanding of your diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment options during each visit. Your cardiologist is a part of your health care team, and they’re there to help you. If you don’t understand something, ask them to repeat what they said or to clarify in simpler terms. Don’t be embarrassed to ask the definition of a word or even have them spell it out for you. As always, the more you understand, the better.
Phrases To Streamline Your Communication With Your Doctor
Not sure how to ask your doctor to repeat or rephrase something? Worried that you don’t quite understand your doctor’s instructions? Heart.org suggests using the following phrases in each circumstance:
When You Need More Information:
Ask the professional to explain. Sample questions for clarification include:
- "I don't understand. Can you say that again, using different or simpler words?"
- "Can you clarify?"
- "Could you please repeat that last part?"
- "What does that word mean?"
- "Please spell that word for me."
When You Want To Ensure You Understand:
Repeat the professional’s instructions using examples like:
- "I think you're telling me that…"
- "Am I correct that you want me to…"
- "Before my next visit, I will…"
- "You want me to call you if…"
When You Want To Review Your Results, Treatment Plans, or Other Instructions:
Review with your cardiologist what you heard to make sure you have all the information. You can use questions like:
- "I heard you tell me these three things…"
- "We decided that…"
- "You want me to try a new medicine because…"
- "You think I'm doing fine except for…"
- "Could you please write down the things you want me to remember?"
Visiting any doctor can be intimidating. Being prepared can help you feel more at ease and in control. Having a game plan, like understanding what a visit may look like or how to end a visit, can help you relax and be better able to process the information, details, and follow-up expectations.