Doctor talking with patient

If you have heart disease, know that you aren't alone. According to the American Heart Association, 48% of Americans 20 years or older have a cardiovascular disease. No matter your specific condition, you probably have some questions about your life going forward. These are the four questions you should ask your heart doctor to get a better understanding of your diagnosis:

How Concerned Should I Be About My Heart Disease?

While heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death for men and women in the U.S., your level of concern really depends on the type and severity of your condition, which your doctor will explain. However, there is cause for comfort. Since Americans are living longer and therefore more likely to develop heart disease, there are more specialized cardiologists than ever who can offer you quality care.

How Can I Prevent My Condition From Worsening?

"Knowing the status of your condition and risk factor management is key to getting the best result from medicine and preventing your heart disease from getting worse," says Dr. Peter Mason, a Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin interventional cardiologist. That means addressing any major risk factors for heart disease that you may have, and the importance of making healthy diet and exercise habits can't be underestimated. Approximately 80% of cardiovascular diseases are preventable, further highlighting the impact of managing risk factors through a healthy diet and exercise regimen, such as the World Health Organization's recommendation of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week for adults.

What you shouldn't do is immediately reach for an aspirin bottle, contrary to what you might have heard about this medicine cabinet staple. "An aspirin a day does not always keep the doctor away," Dr. Mason said. "There's now data that demonstrates the risks of bleeding in many patients may outweigh the benefits of aspirin in the primary prevention of heart attack, cardiovascular death and stroke."

Will I Need Heart Surgery?

Doctors and staff talking together

A heart disease diagnosis doesn't guarantee you will need heart surgery, so it's crucial to get clarification from your doctor. Bypass surgery and stenting procedures still do a great job of preserving life for patients who have had or are at risk for a heart attack. However, fewer patients are undergoing heart surgery than in years past. Studies have shown that interventional and medical therapies can be just as effective for people with blocked arteries. Plus, some heart specialists now collaborate on a case-by-case basis to determine whether surgery is actually necessary.

What Other Treatment Options Are Available?

More than ever before, minimally invasive procedures have become an alternative or even preferred option in the management of patients with heart disease. Your doctor may recommend such a procedure based on your specific condition. For example, Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR) and Transcatheter Mitral Valve Repair with MitraClip are minimally invasive procedures that can help patients with severe aortic stenosis or mitral regurgitation, respectively. When traditional medical therapy, surgery or minimally invasive procedures are not an option, patients may be eligible to participate in clinical trials performed by academic medical centers, which can give patients access to even more innovative and interventional treatments.

"Heart disease is an exciting, dynamic field with many advances in the last five to 10 years," Dr. Mason said. "But there are still unanswered questions and opportunities for advancement. At the Froedtert & MCW health network, we tailor solutions to each patient, and when traditional medical therapy is not an option, patients are considered for alternative, innovative therapies and clinical trials."

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