One of the most frequent questions I get is, "Do I need to see a heart doctor?" Sometimes the need to find a heart doctor (cardiologist) is clear. For example, if you have had a heart attack, stroke, or other cardiac event you will definitely need a cardiologist's care. But for many people the decision of whether to find a heart doctor, or let a general practitioner keep tabs on your heart health, is a bit murkier.
What Are the Signs That You Need to Find a Heart Doctor?
- If you have a family history of heart attacks or sudden death before age 60 you should definitely see a cardiologist. You want to discuss your family history and request screenings for the following risk factors that tend to run in families: low HDL cholesterol, high Lp(a) cholesterol, serum ferritin, homocysteine, and fibrinogen.
- If you have heart symptoms, such as chest pain, syncope (unexplained passing out) or shortness of breath with exertion, you need to find a cardiologist as soon as possible.
- If you’re a man older than 40 or a woman older than 45 and are embarking on a new exercise program, I recommend visiting a cardiologist for a stress test to rule out any undetected heart issues.
The next question I get is how to find a heart doctor that doesn't just write prescriptions, but practices natural medicine and really understands the power of nutritional supplements.
How to Find a Heart Doctor That Practices Natural Medicine
Aside from sound medical training and plenty of years of clinical experience, here are things that make a heart doctor a “top doc” in my book.
- Look for a heart doctor who is F.A.C.C. Board Certified. This designation means the cardiologist is a Fellow of the American College of Cardiology. To earn this designation, the cardiologist must complete required training, successfully pass board certification and receive sponsorship from other F.A.C.C. certified cardiologists attesting to their professional competence in the field of cardiology. Similar designations are given by cardiology boards throughout the world.
- Make sure the heart doctor is truly integrative. This means he or she is just as knowledgeable about alternative therapies, dietary interventions and nutritional supplements as he or she is about conventional drugs and surgery. A key question to ask when interviewing a cardiologist is whether he or she advocates taking Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), L-Carnitine, and D-Ribose. If he or she doesn't recommend any of these nutrients, or doesn't understand what they do, keep on looking.
- Find a heart doctor who treats the whole person. Unfortunately, the sad fact is that most cardiologists do treat the heart like a piece of machinery. But when it comes to heart disease, emotions are just as important as what's occurring physically. So, you want to find a cardiologist who takes a holistic approach and acknowledges that your emotional state can enhance your recovery from heart disease.
- Ensure that you find a doctor who is compassionate and interested in you. During your first office visit, notice if he/she looks directly at you and touches you in a caring way. Many doctors these days don't. Does he or she smile and appear to be connecting with you and your struggle? Does he or she inspire you to take care of yourself?
- Determine if the doctor is flexible and willing to learn. Unfortunately, many doctors treat their patients with blinders on, unwilling to explore new treatments. I've always regarded patients who present me with new ideas as opportunities for me to learn and expand my practice. I never dismiss a new treatment out of hand. Instead, I use it as a chance to seek out new information and grow my repertoire of alternative treatments.
Preparing for Your First Heart Doctor Visit
It's important to make sure every office visit with your doctor is worth your time and money.
- Before you go, prepare a list of things you want to talk about with the doctor, including all of the questions you have. You should never feel rushed or dissatisfied with the answers you get. If you do, start your search over and continue to look for a practitioner who you feel is willing and able to be your partner in good health.
- Bring a list of everything you're taking, including prescription medications (including dosages) and nutritional supplements. Don't be afraid to bring your medications and supplements with you to your visit so the doctor can see the ingredients.
- Take a family member or friend who will listen with you; they may catch some advice or counsel that you miss.
- Bring a pad to take notes during the visit that you can refer to later, and don't be afraid to follow up with your doctor if you have additional questions.
During your office visit, you also want to take mental notes as well. For example, a good doctor won’t treat you with a prescription pad alone, but will ask what you’re eating and guide you toward healing foods. You also want a doctor that doesn't focus on driving your cholesterol lower, but understands that inflammation is the real cause of heart disease and that cholesterol fractions and subtypes matter.
Finally, a good heart doctor will encourage you to seek out a second opinion—especially if you’re facing the decision of whether or not to have surgery. Plus, he or she should support your efforts to educate and empower yourself about keeping your heart healthy.