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Find answers to frequently asked questions about a variety of health conditions, like heart attack, high blood pressure and atrial fibrillation.

  • What is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy?
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) happens when the heart muscle grows too thick, so the heart gets bigger and its chambers get smaller. HCM is the most common genetic heart disease, yet many people have no symptoms and live a normal life with few problems.
  • What are the symptoms of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy?
  • Although hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is the most common genetic heart disease, most people with HCM don’t experience symptoms. For those that do, the most common symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain and fainting—especially during exercise. Symptoms may also include dizziness, fatigue and heart palpitations.
  • What is angina?
  • Angina is chest pain brought on by a lack of oxygen supply to the heart. Angina can be recurring (chronic or stable angina) or can occur suddenly (unstable angina). It’s important to seek medical attention immediately if you experience unexplained chest pain, as it could be a sign of a heart attack.
  • What is gestational diabetes?
  • Gestational diabetes occurs when women develop abnormally high blood sugar levels during pregnancy. In most cases, expecting mothers can help control their sugar levels during pregnancy by staying active and eating right, and their blood sugar will go back to normal soon after delivery. However, women with a history of gestational diabetes or abnormal blood sugar levels during pregnancy have increased risk of developing diabetes and heart disease later in life.
  • Are women less likely to develop heart disease than men?
  • Contrary to the perception that heart disease is a “man’s disease,” heart disease is the No. 1 killer of both men and women in the United States. In fact, more women die each year from heart disease than men. That’s why it’s important that women understand their risk for heart disease and take steps to reduce any risk factors they may have.
  • Are women more likely than men to experience 'atypical' heart attack symptoms?
  • For men and women, the most common symptom of a heart attack is chest pain or pressure. But women don’t always have this telltale symptom and can experience other symptoms, like sweating, shortness of breath, nausea, back or jaw pain, an irregular heartbeat and lightheadedness. It’s important to call 911 and seek immediate medical help if you experience any of these unexplained symptoms.
  • How is gestational diabetes treated?
  • In most cases, women developing diabetes during pregnancy can control their blood sugar levels through lifestyle changes, like eating right and staying active. However, some women require insulin therapy to control their condition.
  • What are the most common complications associated with atrial fibrillation (AFib)?
  • The most common complications associated with AFib include stroke and heart failure. However, proper treatment can help significantly reduce risk of these complications.
  • What are symptoms of pulmonary embolism?
  • Common signs and symptoms of pulmonary embolism include shortness of breath, chest pain and a cough that produces blood. It’s important to seek medical attention if you have these symptoms, because pulmonary embolism can be life-threatening and requires immediate treatment.
  • Who is at risk for pulmonary embolism?
  • Although anyone can develop blood clots leading to pulmonary embolism, it’s more common in individuals that are older, immobile for long periods of time, have undergone surgery, have a family history of blood clots, or have certain medical conditions (heart disease, pregnancy, cancer, previous blood clots). Certain lifestyle conditions can also increase your risk of pulmonary embolism, including smoking, being overweight, and taking supplemental estrogen.
  • What is the goal of atrial fibrillation (AFib) treatment?
  • The goals of AFib treatment include controlling a normal heart rate, reducing risk of complications, minimizing symptoms and improving quality of life.
  • What is standard treatment for heart failure?
  • Heart failure is usually treated with a combination of medications, such as ACE inhibitors, angiotensin II receptor blockers, digoxin, beta blockers, diuretics and aldosterone antagonists. In some cases, patients may need to undergo surgery or procedures to treat underlying problems causing heart failure.
  • What are symptoms of a transient ischemic attack (TIA)?
  • The symptoms of TIA are the same as symptoms of stroke, including sudden dizziness, drooping in the face, numbness or tingling on one side of the body, lack of balance, and loss of vision in one or both eyes. Symptoms of a TIA begin suddenly, only last a short time (a few minutes to 1-2 hours) and go away completely after. It’s important to call 911 at first sign of any of these symptoms.
  • How are diet and stroke risk related?
  • The relationship between diet and risk for stroke is often overlooked. High blood pressure is the most important risk factor for stroke, and diet plays an important role in maintaining a healthy blood pressure. Having a balanced diet, low in salt and full of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and low-fat dairy can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and reduce risk for stroke.
  • If I have had a transient ischemic attack (TIA), should I be concerned about having a stroke?
  • Yes. TIAs are considered a warning sign that a true stroke may happen in the near future, especially if risk factors aren’t addressed and reduced. Many people who have had a TIA will have a stroke within 30 days of their TIA, so seeking treatment to reduce risk factors is important to reducing risk of having a stroke.
  • How does relationship status reduce the risk of a heart attack?
  • Being married—or even having a roommate—improves the chances of getting medical help in the event of an emergency rather than living alone. More importantly, however, experts believe that having a partner could explain the association between marital status and cardiovascular risk. Spouses often advocate for each other's health and serve as good support systems for making healthier choices.
  • What is intermittent claudication?
  • Intermittent claudication is leg pain that a person experiences during physical activity, like walking, which goes away during rest. This condition typically occurs in patients with peripheral artery disease (PAD) due to too little blood flow.
  • How is peripheral arterial disease (PAD) diagnosed?
  • PAD can be diagnosed in a few different ways, including a physical exam, ankle-brachial index (ABI), blood tests, ultrasound and angiography.
  • What can I do to control coronary artery disease?
  • If you have been diagnosed with coronary artery disease or had a heart attack, there’s a lot you can do to improve your heart health. A treatment plan that combines diet, exercise, and medicine can help prevent another heart attack or the need for bypass surgery in the future. Steps you can take to protect your arteries include:

    • Keep high blood pressure under control. 
    • Keep your cholesterol levels within a healthy range.
    • Don’t smoke.
    • Lose weight if you are overweight.
    • Treat high blood sugar.
    • Get regular physical activity.
    • Adopt a heart healthy diet.
    • Brush and floss your teeth daily and get regular dental checkups.
    • Take your medicines as your doctor has directed.
  • What is the connection between alcohol consumption and atrial fibrillation?
  • Scientists have a couple of theories about how the two factors interact.  Alcohol interferes with the heart’s electrical system and ability to maintain a steady rhythm.  It also directly affects the structure of the heart muscle.  Another speculation is that long-term heavy drinkers may have heart muscle changes that increase their risk of AF even before they show symptoms of chronic heart failure.
  • Why are countries with higher national income affected more by heart disease than by stroke?
  • Study findings suggest that overweight or obesity, poor diet and a lack of exercise common in more developed countries may contribute to greater heart disease burden. Regardless of income, diabetes and high cholesterol were associated with greater heart disease burden. However, both conditions are very common in developed countries, often as a result of populations not following a heart-healthy lifestyle.
  • Who is at risk for heart attack?
  • The most common risk factors for heart attack include increased age, tobacco use, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, stress, illegal drug use, lack of physical activity and family history of heart attack.
  • Why is broken heart syndrome named Takotsubo cardiomyopathy?
  • Japanese researchers named this condition after a type of octopus trap (known as tako tsubo) that resembles the shape of the enlarged heart. “Cardiomyopathy” refers to a disease of the heart muscle.
  • When should I call 9-1-1 if I think I'm having a heart attack?
  • Anyone exhibiting symptoms of a heart attack should call 9-1-1 immediately. Whether symptoms are atypical or go away after time, you should not only go to the hospital but should be sure to call 9-1-1 for an ambulance. Prompt action during and after a heart attack can help save your life.
  • How can patients improve blood pressure through lifestyle changes?
  • To help lower blood pressure, patients should follow a healthy, low-sodium and high-potassium diet, increase physical activity, maintain a healthy weight, avoid tobacco use, and better manage stress levels.

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