When it comes to matters of the heart, the silent treatment is never an effective cure. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, with more than 600,000 people dying from it every year. “Heart disease can refer to many types of conditions, but the most common is coronary artery disease, which can lead to a heart attack,” says Dr. Ike Osuji, Medical Director of Mesquite Specialty Hospital. “Anyone can develop heart disease. This happens when a substance called plaque builds up in your arteries, which then narrow over time and limit the blood flow to your heart.” Behaviors such as smoking, unhealthy eating and not getting enough exercise all are factors that contribute to a person’s risk of heart disease. High cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes also are risk factors.
“To be heart-healthy, it’s important that you talk openly and frankly with your doctor about preventing or treating these medical conditions,” Osuji says. “I know that speaking up may be difficult for some patients, but I can’t stress enough that miscommunication – or no communication – between you and your physician can hurt your health. Many people may not feel comfortable asking questions of their physician for a variety of reasons, be it embarrassment, nervousness, lack of knowledge or because their physician may appear to be rushed for time or uses a lot of technical language that’s hard to understand.
“I think I can talk for the majority of my colleagues when I say that as physicians, we strive to create environments that our patients feel comfortable in,” Osuji says. “We appreciate when issues are discussed and we can work together as a team with our patients. The more we can understand about our patients, the more we can help them reach optimal health.”
Dr. Osuji says when it comes to heart health, open communication is key. Taking part in decisions about your treatment, following the treatment plan that you and your doctor agree on, watching for problems, and becoming actively involved in solving them can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. “It’s not just about listening to what you’re told, it’s about asking the right questions and raising appropriate concerns so we can get the best results together,” Osuji says. “When a patient engages with their physician and obtains quality information about prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and recovery, it helps ensure safety, prevent errors, and improve health.” Dr. Osuji, offers the following tips in talking to your physician:
- Ask questions, especially to ensure that you’re following your doctor’s advice and taking your medication correctly. If you don’t understand something, keep asking until you do.
- Before you come to your medical visit, write down questions or concerns. This way, you will remember the most important items that you need to discuss.
- Also, write down the answers. You may receive a lot of information that could be hard to remember. Take a pad of paper and pen and write down your physician’s answers so you’ll be able to review them when you get home.
- Ask your physician about the best way to contact him or her if you have an urgent question after the visit.
- Become an informed consumer. Do a bit of research on your own through reliable sources that your doctor will respect when forming your questions. For heart health and stroke information, consider the Heart Association’s website, or a government site such as National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- If you’re still afraid to speak up, take a spouse or loved one with you who can help you ask your questions. Often times, asking questions can be a major change for someone who isn’t used to raising concerns, so don’t be afraid to take along support if you need it.