When to See a Doctor About a Chronic Heart Problem

Not all heart problems are the dramatic, run to the ER, you’re having a heart attack-type of problem. Many chronic heart problems turn up slowly with subtle symptoms and become worse over time. Other chronic heart problems may have only mild symptoms but still be associated with a higher risk for more serious heart issues in the future, such as a heart attack or heart failure. 

In honor of February as American Heart Month, here’s the scoop on when you should see your primary care doctor or a cardiologist (a heart doctor) for potential chronic health problems.

  • You have occasional symptoms such as dizziness, a faster-than-normal heart rate (100 or above), an irregular heart rate, or more fatigue. Other indications of a potential heart problem include a change in your sleeping habits or nausea. If you experience these symptoms, also let your nursing care manager know. He or she can help you decide when to set a doctor’s appointment for a potential heart evaluation.
  • Your primary care doctor recommends that you see a cardiologist. This is an appointment that you don’t want to delay. Seeing a cardiologist, if recommended by your primary care doctor, can help quickly rule out more serious causes of a problem or help diagnose a potential heart problem.
  • You have several factors that put you at a greater risk for heart disease. For instance, you are a smoker and you have diabetes. Or, you have a family history of heart disease, high blood pressure, and you have high cholesterol. Another surprising possible indicator of heart problems: gum disease. Health experts often find a correlation between gum disease and heart disease. If you have a couple of these risk factors, ask your primary care doctor if you also should be seen by a cardiologist.
  • You’ve had heart changes after having COVID-19. Some post-COVID-19 patients are experiencing heart changes, including a more rapid heart rate, even after recovering from the virus. This has occurred even if the virus itself was only mild.

Examples of Chronic Heart Problems

So, just what are some chronic heart problems that may require monitoring by a cardiologist? Here are just a few examples:

  • Atrial fibrillation. This is the most common type of heart arrhythmia. An arrhythmia refers to a heart that beats too fast, too slow, or irregularly. With atrial fibrillation, or afib, the normal beating in the heart’s upper chambers is irregular, causing blood not to flow as well. Afib, as it’s often called, greatly increases the risk for stroke.
  • Peripheral arterial disease, which is a narrowing or blockage of the blood vessels that take blood from the heart to the legs. It is caused by plaque in the arteries. This type of problem is more common in the legs.
  • Tachycardia is a heart rate that is too fast (usually over 100 beats per minute). There are several types of tachycardia, so a doctor usually has to pinpoint the causes and determine the type of tachycardia to treat it properly.

It may be scary to get diagnosed with a heart problem, but it also can save your life to find and treat it early.

If you have more urgent warning signs of a heart attack—including chest discomfort; pain in the arms, neck, or jaw; or shortness of breath, call 911, the American Heart Association advises.

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