If you have heart valve disease, you know that regular checkups with your doctor are a high priority. It’s also important that you get answers to your questions so that you feel comfortable with your treatment plan.

Many people may not feel comfortable asking questions or expressing preferences. If this sounds like you, it’s OK to step out of your comfort zone. Self-advocacy is a big part of partnering with your doctor to get the best possible care.

The goal of shared decision making can help you prepare for your appointments. Be proactive and ready to participate in the dialogue about your care.

Shared decision making is a healthcare approach that includes your values, priorities, and preferences. It involves a two-way exchange among you, your healthcare team members, and your family.

A 2018 study found that older adults with cardiovascular disease vary in their preferences toward their health goals. Additionally, communication challenges may mean that they do not always make informed decisions. Shared decision making ensures that you understand your options and that your healthcare team is aware of your choices.

If your doctor has offered educational resources about your condition, it’s a good idea to explore them. If not, you can ask for advice about where to find reliable information.

Maybe a healthcare professional has told you to avoid the internet. This advice is meant to protect you from poorly sourced content or information that’s easy to misinterpret.

However, you can find reputable sources online. Federal government websites such as the National Institutes of Health are good places to search. Start at www.usa.gov to find any federal site.

Other reliable sources include:

It’s important to remember that context affects information. This means that something you read may not apply to your case. So, it’s wise to ask your doctor for clarification if there’s anything you don’t fully understand.

Learning more about your diagnosis can help you manage your condition more effectively. Some things you might want to know about are:

  • treatment options
  • concerning symptoms
  • when to seek immediate care
  • helpful lifestyle changes
  • beneficial dietary choices
  • possible medication interactions

Learning as much as you can will help you make informed choices. It will likely also bring up questions for your doctor.

Have you ever had a thought pop into your head only to forget it later? It might not seem important unless it’s a question you wanted to ask your cardiologist about your heart valve disease.

Sometimes, the information you read about your condition might inspire questions. Other times, thoughts might occur out of the blue.

If you record your questions as you think of them, you’ll have them ready the next time you see your doctor. It doesn’t matter if you use paper and pen or a tool like a smartphone app, as long as the method you choose works for you.

Questions to ask your doctor about heart valve disease include:

  • What caused my condition?
  • How can I prevent it from getting worse?
  • Will I need surgery?
  • What are my treatment options?
  • If I need medication, how long will I take it?
  • Are there side effects to medication?
  • How will I know if my heart valve disease is worsening?
  • Can a valve be repaired instead of replaced?
  • If I need a valve replacement, what type of valve is better for me?
  • What kind of symptoms require a call to the doctor or 911?
  • What do imaging tests reveal about my condition?
  • Is there any preparation to be done before the tests?

The AHA has printable questions sheets you can bring to your doctor’s appointment, for both blood pressure and heart failure. They also offer a PACE Guide Sheet as a convenient organizational tool.

No question is too small or unimportant. If it involves your condition and you want an answer, you can ask.

It’s OK to ask more questions if the information your doctor provides isn’t clear. Make sure you understand what your doctor has said before moving on to the next topic. This can improve your treatment outcome, because the better you understand, the easier it is to follow your treatment plan.

Some healthcare professionals allow and even encourage telephone and email communication. Make sure you’re aware of all the options available to you.

You might have one piece of paper in your pocket and another in a drawer. Maybe there’s a list of heart-friendly foods held up by a magnet on your fridge.

Each person has their own organizational style, and finding what works for you is the key. A three-ring binder with tabbed sections is a good option for many people. What matters is that you have access to all your heart valve disease information when you need it.

Items to organize include:

  • contact information for all the healthcare professionals on your team
  • your medical history and any relevant family history
  • a record of your symptoms
  • medication and pharmacy records
  • your questions and your doctor’s answers
  • doctor visit notes and summaries
  • hospitalization information, such as discharge summaries
  • insurance forms
  • legal items, such as medical power of attorney and a living will

You may not need all the items you’ve included, but having everything organized can offer valuable peace of mind.

It’s understandable if you don’t feel comfortable speaking up and asking questions at your doctor’s appointment. However, it’s more than just OK to do so — it’s important that you feel like you can self-advocate.

Self-advocacy can be as simple as doing some research on your own and writing down any questions that arise. If you don’t understand a doctor’s reply to one of your questions, you have the right to ask for clarification.

Self-advocacy leads to shared decision making, which helps ensure that you get the treatment that’s right for you.