Before you see your health care provider, get the facts about your family. “Women, in particular, should ask their mothers what their medical problems are and how their grandparents died,” Haythe advises. “We often know they had colon cancer, but we don’t know what caused their death. Did they actually die of cancer or was it really something else?”
Your doctor will ask risk-factor screening questions and get a family history of cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes and other conditions that now are known to be indicators, such as pre-eclampsia during pregnancy and pre-term labor. He or she also will assess you for an exhaustive list of symptoms.
Do you feel short of breath? Do you get chest pains? Do you get palpitations?
Haythe says if you say you feel fine and exercise five days a week, the doctor is unlikely to order a stress test. “But if you’re 35 and you say, ‘My mother had a heart attack at 40 right after she had a baby, and I’ve been noticing that my chest gets a little tight when I go up the stairs,’ you may have a stress test ordered,” Haythe advises.
There is sometimes a fine line between ignoring something and becoming overly concerned, for both patient and doctor. “Unfortunately, there is a lot of medical bias against women, and many doctors themselves don’t realize that cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer of women,” Haythe says. If your concerns are being dismissed as “just anxiety,” she advises to find a doctor who will take your symptoms or concerns seriously.
At the same time, Haythe notes that knowledge of family risk factors can provoke worry. “Sometimes that’s driving some symptoms,” she explains. “It’s better to check [and find out you’re OK] than ignore it. If you do find something that could be managed, you could be alive for another 50 years with your children.”
The right plan is the plan you follow