“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 ‘women’s 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.