Do You Know When to See a Cardiologist?Cardiologists treat a number of heart conditions that cause a variety of signs and symptoms. The question many people have is knowing when to see a cardiologist. Jihad Khalil, M.D., Lee Physician Group cardiologist, provides some insight.
Chest Pain or Angina
"You should see a cardiologist if you experience chest pain or angina, which is the pain or discomfort that occurs when the heart does not get enough oxygen," Dr. Khalil explains. "Angina is most often a symptom of a heart problem known as coronary artery disease (CAD). The heart is a muscle and it pumps oxygen-rich blood to the whole body. Blood vessels called coronary arteries which are on the surface of the heart carry blood with oxygen to the heart. In CAD, the arteries become stiff and narrow, which decreases blood flow and the amount of oxygen that gets to the heart. If there is a clot in the artery, it can further block blood flow. This can lead to unstable angina, which occurs most often at rest and is a medical emergency."
Shortness of Breath
Dr. Khalil says patients may experience shortness of breath at rest or with minimal exertion if they have a pulmonary condition, like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). But, shortness of breath can also indicate a heart attack or heart failure.
"Heart failure can cause fluid to accumulate in the body," Dr. Khalil says. "Swelling can occur in the feet, ankles, legs or abdomen. Sudden weight gain and, sometimes, loss of appetite can also signify heart failure."
Fast Heart Beat or Palpitations
There is nothing wrong with an occasional skipped heartbeat, Dr. Khalil says, but a rapid or irregular pulse especially when accompanied by weakness, dizziness or shortness of breath can be evidence of a heart attack, heart failure or an arrhythmia. Left untreated, some arrhythmias can lead to stroke, heart failure or sudden death.
"It is always good to visit your primary care doctor first to see if your symptoms are due to other noncardiac conditions," Dr. Khalil says. "But, in cases of urgent symptoms mentioned above, patients can self-refer to the cardiologist. It also is important to add that if you or someone you are with is experiencing symptoms of heart attack, call 911 and do not drive to the hospital."
When preparing for your appointment with the cardiologist, Dr. Khalil offers the following tips:
- Compile a personal history and a health history of your family.
- Gather any recent test results and a list of medications you take.
- Jot down notes about symptoms you have been experiencing.
- Make a list of questions you want to ask the doctor
"Your cardiologist may refer you for any number of noninvasive diagnostic tests," Dr. Khalil says. "These tests do not require the insertion of diagnostic tubes into the heart or arteries." Examples include:
- Stress test
- Nuclear stress test
- Computer tomography (CT) scan
- Positron emission tomography (PET) scan or magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) scan
Dr. Khalil reminds you that the best care is collaborative. "Remember, it is always teamwork among you, your primary care physician and your cardiologist to get the optimal result for your heart condition."
Heart Risk Growing in your Family Tree
Jihad Khalil, M.D.
Lee Physician Group
8960 Colonial Center Drive
Fort Myers, FL 33905