Is it time for you to see a cardiologist?
Chest pain isn’t the only symptom of a heart problem. Other symptoms could be early signs of heart disease. And some medical conditions can lead to heart disease—including some that might surprise you.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for women and for men. That’s why it’s important to stay aware of your heart health and to know your risks for heart disease.
If you have symptoms of a heart problem, or if you have a condition that puts you at risk for heart disease, you should discuss your concerns with your primary care provider (PCP). You and your PCP can decide whether it’s time for you to see a cardiologist.
A cardiologist is a doctor who has special training in treating people who have heart conditions. But you don’t have to be sick to see a cardiologist. A cardiologist can check you for signs of heart disease, assess cardiac risk, and provide guidance to help you prevent heart disease.
Symptoms that may require a cardiologist's care
Chest pain is probably the first symptom most people think of when they think of heart problems. If you’ve had pain or discomfort in your chest, you should tell your PCP and discuss whether you should see a cardiologist. But you should also be aware of other symptoms, including:
- Shortness of breath
- Pain or swelling in your legs
- Unusually fast or slow heart rate
- Dizziness or fainting
Risks that a cardiologist can help you manage
Some diseases or other health conditions may increase your risk for heart disease.
Cardiologist Milena Gebska, MD, PhD, says, “There are two subsets of patients who should be referred to a cardiologist: individuals who have risk factors but have not developed heart disease yet; and those who already have known heart disease. It is important to know your own cardiac risks, as many of them are modifiable. Set goals and always aim for ideal cardiovascular health.”
Factors that could increase your risk for heart disease include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Poor diet
- Physical inactivity
- Chronic kidney disease
- Autoimmune disease
- History of tobacco smoking or active smoking
- Peripheral Arterial Disease
- Family history of heart disease or cardiac health
- Difficult pregnancy
- Being a cancer patient or survivor
- Congenital heart disease during childhood
- Gum disease or poor oral health
If you’ve had preeclampsia, high blood pressure during pregnancy, you may have an increased risk of heart disease.
“All women should be asked about their pregnancy history when assessing cardiovascular risk. Preeclampsia and other hypertensive disorders of pregnancy are associated with significantly increased risk of heart disease, including chronic hypertension, atherosclerotic disease, heart failure, atrial fibrillation, as well as cardiac death. Women who have a history of preeclampsia with preterm delivery are at even higher risk for subsequent heart disease. Young women may not realize that most cardiac compilations occur within 10-15 years from delivery,” explains Gebska.
Having risk factors for a disease doesn’t mean you’ll get that disease. However, if you have risk factors for heart disease, it’s a good idea to consider consulting with a cardiologist. Your cardiologist can discuss your individual heart health and ways to reach ideal cardiovascular health.
Don't wait for heart problems to start
Cardiologists help people of all ages who need to manage a heart condition or who just want to make sure their heart stays healthy. If you think a visit with a cardiologist will help you with a problem you’re having with your health, or if you just want to put your mind at ease, talk to your PCP about getting a referral.
If you are inactive and planning to start exercise routine you may benefit from seeing a cardiologist first.