When is the right time to visit a cardiologist?

Louis Cunningham, MD, FACC and Tommy Miller, III, MD, FACC are both cardiologists with Mid-South Heart Center and West Tennessee Heart and Vascular Center's Paris Cardiology Outreach Clinic. They have provided the information below to help you determine if you need to see a cardiologist.

Let’s start at the beginning, are you at risk for heart disease?

Why do some people live to a vigorous old age while others die of a heart attack in their early 40s? We don't have a complete answer to that question, but we do know that certain characteristics increase your risk of developing heart disease:

  • High blood pressure
  • High blood cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Physical inactivity
  • Male gender
  • Females over the age of 55 with premature menopause
  • Increasing age
  • Family history of heart disease

Now that we’ve reviewed the risk factors for heart disease, let’s focus on preventing it! Get regular exercise. Eat a diet low in animal fats and cholesterol and high in fruits, vegetables, and grains. Stay away from cigarettes. Keep your body weight within a healthy range. Keep your blood pressure and blood sugar under control if you have high blood pressure or diabetes.

Knowledge is power and these lifestyle changes are paying off. The American College of Cardiology tells us that since the early 1960s, the number of deaths from heart disease has dropped by half. According to Dr. Louis Cunningham with the Paris Cardiology Outreach Clinic, “better treatments are responsible for some of that improvement, but if you are living a healthier lifestyle, you deserve credit too.”

Still, heart disease remains the number one killer of both men and women in the United States. Why? Our fast-paced lives can sometimes make it difficult to stick with healthy habits. In addition, Dr. Tommy Miller, III advises us that “even the most health-conscious person may not be able to overcome an inherited risk for heart disease.”
There's plenty of good news though. Continual advances in medical research along with technological innovations mean that cardiologists are better prepared than ever to treat heart disease and help you live a long and active life.

According to Dr. Cunningham and Dr. Miller, here are the top indications it is time to see a cardiologist:

  1. Physician recommendation – If your primary care doctor or nurse practitioner recommends you see a cardiologist, do it. Don’t put it off.
  2. Chest pain – If you have pain in your chest, back, arm, neck and/or jaw, you may have cardiac chest pain. If you have any question that you may be experiencing this symptom, then it’s time to see a cardiologist. Do not wait.
  3. Family history – If anyone in your family has or has had heart problems, you should be aware of heart disease symptoms and consider talking to a cardiologist about them.
  4. Poorly controlled blood pressure and/or cholesterol – If you currently have or you previously have had uncontrolled blood pressure or cholesterol your blood vessels may already be weakened increasing your risk.
  5. Smoking – Smoking is a huge risk factor for heart disease. Smoking decreases the flow of oxygen to the heart and increases blood pressure, heart rate, and blood clotting as well as damages the arteries.
  6. Diabetes – Unfortunately diabetes can contribute to heart disease. If you experience symptoms of heart problems and are diabetic, you should see a cardiologist.
  7. Starting a new exercise program – You are over the age of 40 and starting a new exercise program. You may already be working with a doctor on being more active, but a cardiologist can evaluate your heart health and recommend exercises that would be good for your heart.

“Ideally, the right time to see a cardiologist is before you have a heart attack, when the damage to your heart is still preventable," Dr. Cunninham says.

Learn about the Paris Cardiology Outreach Clinic

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