With heart health on everyone’s mind this month, you might be asking, “When do I need to start seeing a cardiologist?” Baylor College of Medicine cardiologists say there is no specific time to begin seeing this type of specialist, but the first step is talking to your primary care clinician, and it doesn’t hurt to start the conversation now.
“If you have concerns about your heart health you should talk to your primary care clinician. They will be able to go over your concerns, your family history and your risk factors for heart attack and stroke,” said Dr. Salim Virani, professor of medicine – cardiology at Baylor and cardiologist at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center. “This is a conversation you should have with your primary care early in life. If there is a concern, a primary care physician or other healthcare professional can refer you to a cardiologist.”
The reason to start early is because if you do have a heart issue or if you are at a high risk for heart disease, the sooner you address the problem the better the benefit. If you find you have an issue that requires medication, such as high blood pressure, and treatment is started at an early stage of a diagnosis, it could be easier to maintain or manage the problem. Depending on your family history, you might need to start testing for certain issues, such as high cholesterol, earlier and more regularly than others.
“You don’t turn 40 and suddenly plaques begin to form in your heart. For some people it can start in their early 20s or even before. That could be due to lifestyle or genetics,” Virani said.
An early diagnosis also gives you more options. For some, lifestyle changes might be an option rather than starting a medication. Small, sustainable lifestyle changes now can make a big impact and affect your health in the long term. Starting any type of measure to maintain heart health while working with a healthcare professional early on is beneficial because as you age, you will have more years of maintaining a healthy lifestyle rather than continued potential damage to your heart health.
“Making and keeping an annual checkup with your primary care clinician is one way to make heart health a priority. The time to talk about your overall health concerns, including your heart health, is during an annual physical,” Virani said. “If you only see your primary care when you are sick, the appointment is usually used to discuss the matter at hand and not long-term health.”
Virani adds that if you are a parent who is going through some type of treatment or preventative measures to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, make sure to ask your child’s pediatrician about when to start focusing on your child’s heart health. This can start the pattern of healthy habits as they grow up and make annual checkups a part of those healthy choices.
Women also can talk to their gynecologist about heart health concerns. Women who are pregnant should discuss this with their obstetricians since pregnancy can be stressful on the heart. Many pregnant women are diagnosed with gestational diabetes or high blood pressure, which increase their risk for heart attack and stroke.
Bottom line, Virani says, is start the heart-health conversation early!
Learn more about Baylor Medicine’s cardiovascular care, or call 713-798-2545 to schedule an appointment.