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Improve Communication with your health professional

A Healthy Hearts Guide  WHF red heart corporate logo ®

thumbnail woman at doctor appointment

  • If a woman feels anxious or overwhelmed at her healthcare appointment, she may not describe her symptoms clearly or ask questions. This can result in delays in diagnosing problems like heart disease.

  • Symptoms associated with a heart attack and heart disease are varied and women, in particular, may not experience the typical symptoms related to heart disease. Thatís why the words you choose when describing symptoms are so important. They give clues to assist your practitioner in making the correct diagnosis from the start.

  • When in doubt about symptoms, seek care without delay to rule out heart disease.

Make the most of your visit with your health practitioner. Take some time to organize yourself. This can help to reduce at least some of your anxiety. Know how the healthcare system works and how to activate it, and never be afraid to ask questions. Effective communication with your practitioner is an essential part of your health.

  1. Prepare a List of Concerns and give it to your doctor at the beginning of each appointment. List your most important concerns first.

  2. Be Clear, Objective and Persistent when talking about your symptoms.

    Be clear when stating the purpose of your visit...
    SAY: “I’m here to see you today because, for the past two weeks, I’ve had this burning sensation in the middle of my chest. It comes and goes. I’ve also been having palpitations. I just don’t feel right. Could it be my heart?”
    DON”T SAY: “I think I’ve been having panic attacks. I’ve been under a lot of stress lately.”

    Be objective when describing your symptoms...
    SAY: “I get winded going up the stairs. I’ve never had a problem climbing stairs before.”
    DON’T SAY: “I have no energy. I must be depressed.”

    Be persistant in getting the care you need...
    SAY: “I’m not comfortable simply taking a medication to calm my nerves. Please refer me to a cardiologist who understands the needs of women. I must have further testing to ease my mind.”
    DON’T STOP: Continue to seek care if you have a problem that needs a diagnosis, even if your doctor fails to find anything wrong or says it's just your nerves. If you feel you are not being understood or getting the care you deserve, you can obtain a second opinion or you can change doctors.

  3. Keep a list of all the medicines and supplements you take and bring it with you to every doctor appointment. Let all of your doctors and practitioners and your pharmacist know about every medicine you are taking, including over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbals and other supplements and birth control pills.

  4. Be honest about your health habits and be willing to make changes. Tell your health care professional if you don “t exercise regularly, eat all the wrong foods, drink too much caffeine or smoke cigarettes. Know that exposure to second-hand smoke is a risk too.

  5. Get written instructions from your healthcare professional. You can ask for instructions in writing or you can take notes or use a tape recorder. It may help to bring along a friend who can write down the doctor's instructions for you. Ask for an interpreter if English is not your primary language. Make sure you understand your diagnosis and the plan of care so that you can participate in regaining your health.

Accepting responsibility for your own welfare, being pro-active and taking steps to improve communication with your doctor will result in better healthcare for you!

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©1999-2000; updates: 2002, 2004, 2005, 2007 Women's Heart Foundation, Inc. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use prohibited. The information contained in this Women's Heart Foundation (WHF) Web site is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment, and WHF recommends consultation with your doctor or health care professional.