• Office Visit/Physical Exam

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    Woman StethoscopeThe first step in the process of diagnosing and treating cardiovascular disease is a visit with your doctor to discuss your risk factors for developing cardiovascular disease, as well as any cardiac symptoms you may be having. Your doctor will ask how these symptoms impact your daily activities, how long you have noticed them and how often they occur and under what conditions. For example, do you notice symptoms when you are lifting a bag of groceries, working out at the gym, walking or just sitting quietly?

    Your doctor will also perform a physical examination to check your blood pressure, weight, and cholesterol levels. He or she will also ask you questions, such as:

    Lifestyle choices

    • How often do you exercise? What do you do for exercise?
    • Do you drink alcohol? How much? How often?
    • Do you eat a heart-healthy diet?
    • Do you smoke? Have you used tobacco products in the past?
    • Do you live a high-stress lifestyle? How do you manage stress?

    Medical history


    Based on the discussion with your doctor and the results from your physical exam and blood tests, your doctor will recommend medications and changes in your lifestyle to help control your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, maintain a healthy weight and manage blood sugar levels. In addition, your doctor may refer you for tests to diagnose what may be causing your symptoms.

    If you are a new patient, your doctor may also make suggestions, such as that you begin keeping a log of your blood pressure levels, and your glucose levels if you have diabetes. This log can help you and your doctor identify areas to work on and gauge progress. A blood pressure log can also help identify if your elevated blood pressure levels are due to what is called “white coat hypertension,” which just means that sometimes a person’s blood pressure may rise in response to the “stress” of a doctor’s office visit.

    Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Your Medical History and Risk Factors

    Being prepared in advance for your office visit can help you make sure your doctor receives all the information he or she needs. Write down notes about your medical history to take with you, if you think that may be helpful. You may also want to write down notes containing questions you have for your doctor. The questions below can help you start your list:

    • Does my personal and family medical history put me at greater risk for cardiovascular disease?
    • Do I have risk factors for cardiovascular disease that I can change (e.g., smoking, diet, etc.)?
    • How can I enroll in a smoking cessation program? (If you smoke and wish to quit.)
    • What level and type of exercise is appropriate for me?
    • Is there anything that I should be doing right now to improve my cardiovascular health?

    A copy of this list of quesions is available here (PDF format) for you to print and take with you. And please, share it with a friend or loved one so they can take this important first step, too.