For many women, the demands of family, friends, marriage and career can leave little time for the small things – even routine doctors visits. Cheryl Holmes knows this all too well. When doctors diagnosed her with congestive heart failure, she realized her outlook on life required a complete overhaul, starting with putting her own needs first. “You need to stand up for yourself,” Cheryl says. “You know your body.”
Make time for annual heart checkups
You’d never miss your son’s physical or a trip to the OB/GYN. Why should your own heart heath be any different? Even if you don’t have a heart condition, it’s crucial to schedule and keep annual exam appointments with your primary care physician.
To make the most of the time with your doctor, prepare for your visit. Ask questions and make note of your numbers: blood pressure, cholesterol, heart rate, blood glucose and weight. These records help provide a baseline to compare against future visits.
Ask for screening tests
The secret to preventing heart disease is recognizing and managing your risk factors. But how do you know which ones you have? Doctors can determine this with the proper screening tests; all you have to do is ask.
At your next checkup, ask your doctor about taking the tests listed below.
- Weight and BMI
- Waist circumference
- Blood pressure
- Fasting blood glucose
If the results from your screenings create cause for concern, your doctor may suggest specific lifestyle changes or prescribe a medication to help manage a particular risk factor. In some cases, your primary care doctor may refer you to a cardiologist for further testing and evaluation. If this happens, there is no need to panic. Your primary care physician is only interested in the most thorough care for you, and a cardiologist is simply another skilled player on your healthcare team.
If you already have heart disease
If you’ve already been diagnosed with a cardiovascular condition, or if your medical history includes heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular events, your doctor will probably require additional and more frequent testing for you. Work closely with your healthcare provider to schedule appointments as needed, and if possible, schedule appointments for slower times of the year, when you’re least likely to cancel.
Remember, you are responsible for prioritizing your heart health. Cheryl Holmes suggests encouraging the women in your life to join you in scheduling and keeping regular exams to prevent heart disease. “I raise awareness among those next to me,” she says. “I believe that if you can tell one person, they’ll in turn tell another and increase awareness about heart disease. To me, that’s empowering.”