Most of your health problems can be managed by your primary care physician, but there are certain medical issues that may require the expertise of a cardiologist, a doctor with specialized training in heart-related care. Cardiologists are nearly always board certified, and these specialists can be found through your general practitioner, local hospital, or your insurance provider. As for when you need to reach out to one? We spoke with two cardiologists—if you're experiencing any of the below symptoms, it's time to give this expert a call.
Related: Four Easy Ways to Boost Heart Health
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Start with your primary care physician.
Most people are aware of how they feel when they are in their optimal health, says Dr. Biana Trost, M.D., the Director of Echocardiography and a Physician Advisor at New York's Lenox Hill Hospital—this means it's nearly always easy to tell when something feels off. If you're experiencing anything like persistent fatigue, loss of appetite, shortness of breath, general chest pain, or any lingering pain anywhere in your chest cavity which becomes further aggravated by touch (but does not respond to over-the-counter medicines or resolve within 10 days) should prompt a call to your general practitioner, she notes. "Dizziness can be a sign of fluctuating blood pressure, blood sugar, or arrhythmia," adds Dr. Trost. Depending on your symptoms, your doctor might tell you to hang up and get to the emergency room, stat. If your primary care physician thinks it's safe to wait, an appointment prompted by these symptoms will including taking your blood pressure, checking your blood glucose levels, and potentially administering an electrocardiogram.
Understand when to call 911.
Many of the above symptoms prompt a visit with a cardiologist; if your general practitioner notes any abnormalities or thinks more testing is in order, they'll likely refer you to one. But Dr. Trost notes that a few key ailments actually merit a 911 call. "A sudden onset of chest pain or shortness of breath can be a sign of angina (pain due to blocked vessels and lack of blood flow) or heart attack," she notes. And if you're experiencing chest pain radiating to the neck, left arm, jaw, or back? Definitely call an ambulance.
Know what to expect during your first visit with a cardiologist.
Seeing this specialist can feel overwhelming, especially if you've been diagnosed with a heart condition, but according to Dr. Leonard Pianko, M.D., a board-certified cardiologist, you can expect much of your first appointment to be about establishing a rapport. "From my experience, having the patient and family get to know you—and for you to get to know them—is the most important part of the initial visit," he says. "The second most important part is to obtain an accurate list of medications, including the over-the-counter ones." If you have had any heart-related tests performed, like electrocardiograms and angiograms, bring them, along with your most recent lab results, notes Dr. Pianko.