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Heart Health 101: Everything You Need to Know About Seeing a Cardiologist

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A cardiologist visit brings with it a series of tests and check-ins to ensure there’s nothing concerning regarding a patient’s heart health — or what the next steps might be if they find a problem.

Whether you’ve been referred by your family doctor or you’ve made an appointment on your own, you’re probably wondering what to expect during your first cardiology visit (and beyond). At Trinity Health Mid-Atlantic, doctors including Deon Vigilance, MD, a cardiac surgeon and Sunil Dhar, MD, an interventional cardiologist at Nazareth Hospital, work to deliver the best care possible to their patients.  

Here, they explain everything you need to know about seeing a cardiologist, what you’ll experience throughout the process and how you can play your part to get back to a clean bill of heart health. 

What Happens at Your First Cardiologist Visit?

During your first cardiology appointment, your cardiologist will order tests as a first step to help with their diagnosis. That might mean an electrocardiogram to check the rhythm of your heart, checking oxygen and cholesterol levels, or ordering bloodwork to gather data and help your diagnosis.

Your cardiologist will ask you about your health habits: whether you’re a smoker, your daily diet, and how much you exercise. They’ll also record your vital signs — heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and oxygen levels, to name a few. Plus, they’ll ask you about your family history and any medications you’re currently taking.  

“We spend several minutes during a visit asking and answering questions,” Dr. Vigilance says. “We want to provide as much information as needed upfront in case patients don’t know to ask a certain question.”

Communication is Key

When you visit a cardiologist, both Dr. Dhar and Dr. Vigilance say that it’s important for you to share as much as possible with your doctor. At the same time, Dr. Dhar says that there’s an emphasis on communicating in simple terms.

“We recognize that patients are going through this for the first time and there’s shock involved,” Dr. Vigilance says. “We try to create a comforting environment and educate them on their disease process. From there, we explain the risks and outcomes should we decide they need surgery.”

Ideally, the best case scenario out of a visit to a cardiologist is to avoid surgery. But if you do need surgery, then your cardiologist will guide you through that process.  

The most common heart surgery is a cardiac bypass, which is usually performed when a cardiologist identifies blockages or increased risk factors for weakened heart function. Trinity Health Mid-Atlantic also uses advanced technology like robotics to perform cardiac or cardiothoracic surgery to make sure the process runs as efficiently as possible. 

Dr. Vigilance says that having these opportunities presents a major advantage and assists in explaining to patients how he addresses valve issues, blocked arteries or treating someone who has had an aneurysm. 

“There’s a lot of different factors to consider,” Dr. Vigilance says. “We want to make sure your lungs are functioning properly if you’re a smoker. We take a look at your lab results and evaluate your kidney function and blood count. These are all variables that help us determine how and where to operate.”

Maintaining a Relationship with Your Cardiologist

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Having an issue with your heart can be a scary time. That’s why the doctors you come to see will listen to your concerns and send you on the right path in your heart health journey.

“Ultimately, the goal is always to provide a safe environment for us to consult with patients, and, if necessary, proceed with the procedures we do on those patients,” Dr. Vigilance says. “We have a specific process in place to minimize the risk to our patients and commit ourselves to improving their overall health outcomes.”

What’s more, Dr. Vigilance is especially active in the areas he serves — he’s a leader in community outreach organizations — and has a philosophy of care to meet people where they are.

“If someone comes to me with a problem in the community, and I don’t have the expertise in that area, we’re able to make a phone call and find the right specialist to meet their needs,” Dr. Vigilance says. 

When you go to a Trinity Health Mid-Atlantic facility, you’ll also be treated by a health system that is working to train the next generation of doctors. For example, beginning this July, Nazareth Hospital’s community-based cardiology training fellowship program will be available to doctors who are interested in becoming cardiologists and are already board-certified in internal medicine. Trainees will be exposed to classroom-based learning and observe procedures in the operating room.

“Through our fellowship program, we’ve partnered with surgical and tertiary care centers in the area to deal with the surgical aspects of cardiovascular disease,” says Thomas S. Metkus, M.D., the Chief of Cardiology at Trinity Health Mid-Atlantic who works at Nazareth hospital. “We are proud to provide this full service of both diagnostic and therapeutic cardiovascular care to our local communities.”