Involving Your Physician
Let’s say your have high blood cholesterol, and your doctor writes out a prescription for a drug to lower it. But what if you said to your doctor, "I really want to try to avoid the drug route, if at all possible. What would you think about my trying a heart-healthy diet and intensifying my exercise efforts and coming back in six weeks for another cholesterol test before we resort to medication?
In other words, don’t be a passive recipient of your medical care. Partner with your physician and other healthcare professionals to keep your heart as healthy as possible. You may even want to ask your physician to refer you to a registered dietitian for some nutrition counseling. Often, insurance companies won’t pay the cost without a physician referral, and maybe your physician won’t know how committed you are to making the necessary lifestyle changes unless you inform her or him.
Part of advocating for yourself at the doctor’s office is always knowing your own numbers—your blood cholesterol, your blood pressure, etc. That way, you, in effect, become one of the health "professionals" keeping tabs on whether any lifestyle changes—or drugs—are helping as they ought to.
In the Emergency Room
In the rare instance that you might end up in the emergency room for symptoms related to your heart, the first order of business is to get there as soon as you feel something is amiss. If you are having a heart attack or stroke and you tell yourself "it’s nothing" or otherwise minimize your symptoms and delay treatment, you can increase the degree of permanent damage that will occur—or worse. A cardiovascular event can be a matter of life and death. Get someone to drive you to the hospital immediately, or call 911.
At the hospital, don’t feel awkward about suggesting you may be having a heart attack, and don’t let any healthcare personnel tell you that you’re not because you are a woman. Remember, just because women’s heart attack symptoms are generally more diffuse and vague than men’s (it could feel more like persistent indigestion rather than a train wreck on your chest), more women die of heart disease than men every single year.
Take another person with you to the hospital, if at all possible. She or he can fill in where you may not be able to.