Explaining Your Condition

If you’ve been diagnosed with heart disease, at some point you will want to (or have to) explain your diagnosis to your loved ones, friends, and employers and colleagues. Of course, you should go at your own pace and tell them when you’re comfortable enough to talk about it.

To Children

How you explain your diagnosis to your children will depend on how old they are. Younger children won’t understand the medical terminology, so it might help to use visuals to explain your condition to them. For example, to explain an arrhythmia, you can tell them to imagine the heart as a pump (you can use your fist to demonstrate) and that sometimes it pumps or beats more quickly or slower than it’s supposed to.

To explain coronary artery disease, you can tell them to imagine the arteries as pipes that sometimes get clogged, like a drain. This makes it harder for liquid (blood) to flow. The use of familiar imagery will help them understand the concept better than using medical terms. Older children might better be able to understand more technical terminology, so you can go into greater depth with them.

When talking to all your children, you should also stress the importance of a healthy lifestyle, as heart disease often runs families.

To Employers and Co-Workers

It’s your choice whether or not to disclose your condition to your boss or others at work. If you do decide to tell them, it’s better to do it sooner than later. That way, if you end up having to take time off work later on because of your condition, it won’t seem to your boss that it’s coming out of left field.  

Be completely honest. Tell your boss that you were recently diagnosed with heart disease and explain the type. If your condition is stress-related, be careful not to blame the job! If you need a lightened workload while dealing with your health, ask if there is any way you can negotiate your responsibilities. Ask about taking time off for appointments and treatments. Bring copies of any literature that you think might be helpful for them to review.

Also remember that you have legal protections if you’re worried about keeping your job. Heart disease is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which “provides comprehensive civil rights protections for ‘qualified individuals with disabilities.’” Under the ADA, employers are prevented from discriminating against disabled individuals throughout the job. This means you can’t be fired or passed over for a raise or promotion because of your condition.

Take into consideration that you’re not required to disclose your health information to your employer. However, disclosure is the only way to protect your rights in terms of any accommodations you might need to be able to continue to do your job efficiently.

Like telling your boss, your decision to tell your co-workers about your heart disease diagnosis is completely up to you. If you’re uncomfortable talking about it, you shouldn’t feel obligated. However, it can be helpful if they know what you’re going through.

To Family and Friends

Telling your loved ones about your heart disease might be uncomfortable for you, but it doesn't have to be difficult. Explain your diagnosis and what your treatment options are. Ask for their support if you need help around the house or getting to appointments.

It will also be helpful to them and to you if they understand the “stages of change” that happen after your diagnosis, heart attack, or stroke. If you’re making lifestyle changes, you’ll likely go through these stages, according to the American Heart Association:

  • precontemplation: not thinking about changing an old habit
  • contemplation: thinking about changing, but not doing anything
  • preparations: doing something about changing, but not on a regular basis
  • action: changing the old habit on a regular basis, but for less than six months
  • maintenance: habit has been changed for six months or longer

Having a good support system can be a great help in dealing with your diagnosis and recovery, so it would be beneficial to be as open with others as you feel comfortable.