Over the last several hundred years, the field of cardiology has made significant developments. The fact that we’ve developed devices that we implant into human hearts to keep them alive is miraculous. We owe all of our medical developments to hundreds of years of research and many brilliant scientists who have worked tirelessly to solve complex heart problems.
In all that research, we’ve gotten incredibly good at studying objective markers of health like a patient’s blood pressure or heart rate and tracking that over time to determine the trajectory of their cardiovascular wellness. Currently, however, we don’t have a good way to evaluate and measure a patient’s heart disease symptoms.
One of the significant complications in quantifying symptoms is that each patient’s experience of their heart disease symptoms is subjective, meaning that two people may experience the same thing and report differing levels of discomfort. Perhaps one patient has a higher threshold for pain or is afraid that admitting their symptoms will create a domino effect of unwanted medical tests.
Since your cardiologist can’t feel how you feel in your body, you must become your best advocate and practice clear communication to paint the most accurate image of your health for them.
Stay In Touch With Your Body
Once you’ve walked around with a tightness in your chest or shortness of breath for long enough, it becomes easier to ignore. However, that is precisely what you don’t want to do. Sit quietly and scan your body for all the sensations you’re feeling at the moment. Take note of the things that hurt or are concerning to you. The more you practice being in touch with your body, the better you’ll be able to recognize when something feels worse than it should. Often, cardiovascular symptoms occur when a patient’s heart is under stress, so repeat the same practice while climbing up a flight of stairs or walking quickly through a parking lot.
Understand Your Risks
We all know the most common symptom of heart disease is chest pain, but did you know that women report symptoms like nausea and shoulder pain? Because these aren’t the symptoms that come to mind first, they can easily be overlooked, leading to late diagnoses for female patients. It’s also true that black patients may experience more severe symptoms of atrial fibrillation than white or Hispanic patients do. Patients and their doctors need to know how their personal qualities can cause differing symptoms.
Be A Bold Self-Advocate
Aside from the objective data cardiologists collect from blood pressure tests and other diagnostic tests, your doctor depends on your self-reporting. It’s not uncommon for patients to minimize their symptoms out of fear or because finding an answer feels like a hassle. Remember that you and your cardiologist share the same goal, for you to get the care you need to be healthy. The more clearly you communicate your symptoms, the more quickly your doctor can get you the care you need that, in some cases, may save your life.
Be An Investigator
Perhaps communicating how you’re feeling doesn’t come naturally to you. Start by asking yourself some simple questions. Do you feel your symptoms all the time? If not, when and where do they occur? Does exercise trigger your symptoms? Do they get worse during times of stress or anxiety? Jot down the answers to these questions and any other details you can think of, and bring them with you to meet with your cardiologist.
You are the only person who knows what it feels like to live in your skin. And until we have better tools at our disposal, it’s up to patients and their doctors to work together to identify and monitor cardiovascular symptoms. If you are concerned about your heart health and don’t have a cardiologist, it’s time to get one. Contact our office today to learn more about our team.