Your lab reports and tests only tell one part of the story. To manage your atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD) in the best way possible, your health care team needs to know how it affects you. Your primary care doctor, cardiologist, and other specialists will tailor a treatment plan for you after asking questions like these.
Symptoms, Conditions, and Medical History
What and where are your symptoms?
If your ASCVD is mild, you may not have any symptoms. If you feel pain or discomfort, your health care team will want to know where you feel it. A big part of treating ASCVD is understanding which of your arteries are affected. Your health care provider may ask if you have chest or leg pain, sudden numbness in your arms or legs, slurred speech, drooping muscles, or temporary loss of vision in one eye.
Other symptom-related questions may include:
Timing. When did you first notice symptoms? Do they happen all the time, or every once in a while?
Intensity. Is it dull or sharp? Does it feel like an ache or pressure? Any tightness or tingling?
Triggers. What makes it start? What makes it go away?
Do you have a family history of heart conditions?
Many types of heart issues run in families. If your ASCVD is genetic, your treatment plan may look different from someone else’s whose condition is based on lifestyle factors like smoking or obesity. Tell your doctor if your mother, father, brother or sister, or any aunts, uncles, or grandparents on both sides of your family have heart conditions.
Do you have diabetes?
Heart disease and diabetes have a strong connection: You’re twice as likely to have heart disease or stroke if you have diabetes. This is especially true in younger people. Why? Because high blood sugar damages your blood vessels and your cardiac nerves over time. Your health care provider may also ask if diabetes runs in your family.
Which prescription medicines and supplements do you take?
Some supplements, like calcium and beta-carotene, may increase your risk of cardiac conditions when you have ASCVD. Before your appointment, make a list of everything you take, including over-the-counter and prescription medication, plus supplements. Include dosages and how many times a day you take each one.
What’s your medical history?
Any injuries, surgeries, and hospitalizations you’ve had in the past are important pieces of the puzzle. Your health care team will also ask if you’re allergic to any over-the-counter or prescription medication, food, or have environmental allergies, like pollen or dust.
Do you have sleep apnea? Sleep apnea makes your blood oxygen levels drop and your blood pressure higher. This raises your risk of heart attack and stroke.
Do you have arthritis, lupus, psoriasis, or inflammatory bowel disease (IBS)? These inflammatory conditions could make your ASCVD worse.
You can’t change some ASCVD risk factors, like your age. Others you can. These questions will give your heath care team insight into lifestyle choices that may affect your condition:
Do you smoke, vape, or chew tobacco? Nicotine increases your heart rate and blood pressure, and smoking increases plaque formation in your blood vessels.
What do you eat in a typical day? If your diet is high in saturated and trans fat, salt, sugar, and cholesterol, it increases plaque in your arteries.
How often do you exercise? Lack of exercise is a major risk factor in ASCVD. Consistent movement lowers your blood pressure, cholesterol, and the amount of fat in your blood.
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Cleveland Clinic: “Atherosclerosis: Arterial Disease.”
Mayo Clinic: “Arteriosclerosis / atherosclerosis,” “Sleep apnea.”
Nova Southeastern University Florida: “Patient Interview Guide.”
UCI Health: “Does A Family History of Heart Attacks Increase Your Risk?”
CDC: “Family Health History of Heart Disease,” “Smoking and Cardiovascular Disease.”
Kaiser Permanente: “Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease (ASCVD) Primary Prevention Guideline.”
National Library of Medicine: “The Role of Nicotine in the Pathogenesis of Atherosclerosis.”
University of Rochester Medicine Center: “What You Can Do to Prevent Atherosclerosis.”