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5 secrets you should never keep from your cardiologist
August 21st, 2012
12:49 PM ET

5 secrets you should never keep from your cardiologist

Editor's note: These tips were originally published on CNN.com in 2011. To read the full article, click here.

When Rosie O'Donnell wrote about her recent heart attack on her blog, she mentioned several symptoms that she ignored before going to her cardiologist.

"i had an ache in my chest, both my arms were sore... i became nauseous, my skin was clammy, i was very very hot, i threw up... i googled womens heart attack symptoms, i had many of them, but really? – i thought – naaaa."

Heart disease is the number-one killer of both men and women, but O'Donnell's response is common, experts say - especially among women.

Although most report symptoms of chest pain with a heart attack, women are more likely to report unusual symptoms like back pain, jaw pain, light-headedness and extreme fatigue, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

It's never a good idea to withhold information from any doctor whom you entrust with your care. However, cardiologists say there are specific concerns that can be dangerous or even fatal when they aren't informed.

Here are five secrets you should never keep from your cardiologist.

1. If you are taking vitamins or supplements

Alternative medicine and herbal remedies may be great for some to help manage chronic conditions, but cardiologists warn certain supplements can pose serious risks to people who are also taking medications for heart disease.

From alfalfa to yohimbine, a study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology lists more than two dozen herbal products patients with cardiovascular disease should avoid.

2. If you have undergone tests from other doctors

Patients may sometimes be shy about admitting to their physician that they have received a second opinion or additional testing, says Dr. Richard Stein, a national spokesperson for the American Heart Association.

"Your goal walking out is to get the best health care - not to make the doctor feel good," he says. If you've had a blood test, EKG, echocardiogram or angiogram, Stein says to keep your own patient file and bring it with you to your appointment.

"It's not fair to expect a doctor to understand the seriousness of your condition if they don't have all of the information."

To help you maximize your next visit to the cardiologist, CardioSmart provides an online checklist to help you prepare.

3. If you have skipped your medications

"Patients often lie about taking blood pressure or cholesterol medication," says Dr. Nieca Goldberg, director of the Women's Heart Program at New York University. She says sometimes they believe these drugs aren't necessary if they alter their diet. While that may be true in the long term, the effects of diet change are not as immediate, and the patient may be prolonging the problem.

Goldberg also says another potential problem arises when your cardiologist reads blood pressure and checks your cholesterol levels and notices no change.

"You don't want to accidentally be given a prescription for a higher dose, when you're not even taking the lower dose," she explains.

4. If you are going through hard times

"When you're under stress you have extra adrenaline that can stimulate the heart to skip beats and have palpitations," says Dr. Alfred Bove, past president of the American College of Cardiology.

He says patients who have experienced some serious life trauma - like a death, layoffs, divorce, or even just a stressful job - may have elevated blood pressure and should be monitored more vigilantly.

5. If you haven't really stuck to your diet

"Everyone wants to put their best foot forward, so it's easy to come in and say you've started an exercise program when it really didn't happen," says Goldberg. "But just saying you exercised doesn't improve your cardiovascular health."

In fact, it could be harmful, says Stein.

"If a patient tells me they don't have chest pains, but they are doing nothing in terms of physical activity, then I'm not getting an accurate picture of the shape their heart is really in," he explains. "I may want to do a stress test to see what really happens when you exercise."

If you feel uncomfortable talking with your doctor about your health, then change doctors.


soundoff (29 Responses)
  1. Well

    ...how are those secrets?...really?...you're not going to tell your Dr. that why?

    August 21, 2012 at 13:19 | Report abuse | Reply
    • mommytoane

      Oh trust me. People don't tell their dr's a lot. Many people think going on a vitamin is just...normal. They don't think to to tell their dr's that. Then you have the people that think a DR and a shrink are two different things....so don't say whats going on in their lives.
      BUT if you also think of the reality that your dr sepends two seconds with you...thats a lot of time for a lot of information that could be given.

      August 21, 2012 at 17:08 | Report abuse |
    • c s

      mommytoane – I read the list of supplements that was listed in the reference article at http://content.onlinejacc.org/article.aspx?articleid=1140425 and none were vitamins. The whole list was prefixed by "might" for possible problems. Too much salt can raise your blood pressure but no mention was made of it. Anything that you do "might" be a problem. Most people who have heart problems have much more to worry about then taking vitamins. Does this mean that vitamins are completely harmless? No, but they are taken daily by millions and if vitamins were causing problems, it would have shown up by now. Probably the best thing most people can take is a multivitamin. In fact any women of child bearing age should be taking a multivitamin that has at least 400 mcg of Folic acid to prevent a horrible disease called spina bifida. Only by taking a multivitamin with 400 mcg of Folic acid is it possible to get enough of it.

      August 21, 2012 at 19:28 | Report abuse |
    • whatever

      When you live in America where your health/habbits can be held against you in obtaining insurance, many people learn to lie. One more thing against private medicine.

      August 21, 2012 at 20:42 | Report abuse |
  2. New Gawker

    The only thing I see there that someone would tell their dr. is no. 5 and that's only if your a fat pig. Fat people are always lying about their eating habits. My favorite is I eat the same amount of food you do.

    August 21, 2012 at 13:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Emastmagy

      They do. They just don't exercise as much!

      August 21, 2012 at 14:33 | Report abuse |
    • truebob

      Conceited JACKA55. 80% of your weight success of failure is genetic. Heavy people who eat right and diet will be in shape heavy people and skinny people who drink pizza and spend all day gaming will be out of shape skinny people. I have always been extremely athletic looking and it doesn't make much difference if I'm going to the gym 6 times a week or sitting in front of the computer 10 hours a day for years. Diet or no, beer or no, same clothes and no one notices but me. Same for the wife except she is a size 2, and she really does eat as much as I do.

      August 21, 2012 at 18:34 | Report abuse |
    • Adam

      80% of weight loss success is genetic? Are you high? Thats complete BS. That is just an excuse period. Its all numbers, if you take in more calories than you burn, you will gain weight. If you burn as much as you take in each day, you will maintain. If you burn more than you take it, you lose weight. No magic. Plain and simple. If youre burning more calories than you take in, and stay your similar weight or go up, you have a medical issue and should seek help. But its DEFINITELY not 80% genetic.

      August 21, 2012 at 19:22 | Report abuse |
    • lolz

      "you're"

      August 23, 2012 at 11:46 | Report abuse |
    • lolz

      "truebob – ... 80% of your weight success of failure is genetic..."

      wrong. it's all calories in vs. calories burned. burn more calories than you take in on a given day and you will lose weight. period.

      August 23, 2012 at 11:58 | Report abuse |
  3. yoyoman

    # 6 smoke as much tabcco as humanly possible.

    August 21, 2012 at 13:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. doungen dragon

    ^hahah #7 drink as much caffine and 5 hr energys as possible

    August 21, 2012 at 13:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Me2!!!

    #8 avoid regular DR visits and Ki$$ you A$$ goodbye!

    August 21, 2012 at 14:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. ReeferMadness

    Best piece of advise in this whole article: If you are uncomfortable talking with your Dr, change doctors. Duh!

    August 21, 2012 at 14:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. sumday

    #9 use illegal substances

    August 21, 2012 at 14:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. matta

    #2: Looks good on paper, but... Many doctors will not see you if you have seen another doctor. It makes sense to do this, but be prepared to find another doctor.

    August 21, 2012 at 15:06 | Report abuse | Reply
    • lolz

      my cardiologist is always booked up. I have to see his PA or my family practice doc. An actual cardiologist will see you regardless of what other docs you have seen.

      August 23, 2012 at 11:47 | Report abuse |
  9. Bob

    What does the text under #5 have to do with diet?

    August 21, 2012 at 15:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. joe

    General Practionitiors suck. They are just playing the odds. Specialists are the way to go if your insurance allows it.

    August 21, 2012 at 15:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Katie

    Telling your doctor everything may not matter. Most doctors aren't listening except to the part where you tell them what YOU think is wrong. Then they nod and say "could be, could be." Women present with a lot of symptoms for heart attack, but if they also insert how stressful their life is/has been, they may end up with a pat on the shoulder and a suggestion to take up yoga or a prescription for anti-anxiety or prescription meds. Like that'll work with an impending heart attack!! I have a doc who told me – when I mentioned weird tachycardia I had – that it was common with women my age and not to worry about it. I told a friend who sent me to her cardiologist who told me I had a heart valve problem. My niece fainted twice in two weeks, both times after what she called "weird" heart beats and tingling in her fingertips. Her doctor sent her to a psychologist. When she fainted a third time on the subway, the ambulance took her to the ER and she had dangerous arrythmias caused by extra nodes that signaled her heart to beat and they took her to surgery and fixed the problem.

    August 21, 2012 at 16:02 | Report abuse | Reply
    • widespread disregard

      Yes, and what's particularly creepy is that female physicians are just as likely to blow off a woman's symptoms as male physicians. Women do need to learn to articulate their problems better and everyone needs to learn how to listen better.

      August 21, 2012 at 17:13 | Report abuse |
  12. Jimmy

    More CNN dribble...

    August 21, 2012 at 16:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. rufus

    Rosie O'Donnell never met a corn dog she didn't like.

    August 21, 2012 at 17:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Quentin Terentino

    Guess I'm off the hook for that half kilo I snorted last month!

    August 21, 2012 at 17:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Respect

    Important left out point in this article: Doctors know absolutely nothing about the human body. For those doctors, probably 95%, i.e., non-holistic doctors who do not encourage lifestyle change, they are nothing more than licensed drug dealers. They do not study on the effects of good diet, supplements, exercise, as well as the power of the mind to heal.

    The best quote I ever heard was if you want to stay alive, stay out of the doctor's office and hospital.

    August 21, 2012 at 17:56 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Portland tony

      Healthy people are bad for physician's income ...Especially specialists....Prescribing a healthy lifestyle doesn't provide the awards and benefits that Big Pharma hands out.

      August 21, 2012 at 20:18 | Report abuse |
  16. Lauren O'Connell

    I really liked this article because I know myself when I go to the doctor I am hesitant when it comes to divulging details.
    For example I do not like to admit to '"cheating" on my diet, or I may not be be taking vitamins. No one really likes to admit those things at times. I luckily found my doctor on a website called DocASAP.com

    August 22, 2012 at 15:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Shannon Taylor

    Or your as angry and judgemental as some commenters here, you may have significant cardiac problems as well as mental health issues.

    August 27, 2012 at 17:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. thiagodaluz7

    I have two friends who are cardiologists in Montana and I've heard these things so often, the frustration at not hearing about important things until they become an issue. We have to be honest with the people who are supposed to help us stay healthy and...you know, alive.

    July 1, 2013 at 12:42 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.