December 16, 2010 05:00 ET

Nurse Becomes the Patient: Advice for Productive Conversations With Doctors

MISSION, KS--(Marketwire - December 16, 2010) -  (Family Features) As a cardiac nurse, Carol was devoted to helping patients suffering from heart disease. But when she began to experience a subtle pain in her jaw as she walked from her car to the hospital where she worked, she brushed it aside. She knew it was angina, a symptom of a heart problem, but she ignored her symptoms because she didn't want to face a diagnosis.

Chronic angina affects more than 10 million Americans and is the most common symptom of coronary heart disease (CHD). Angina occurs as a result of reduced blood flow to the heart and can be brought on by exercise, extreme temperatures, mental or emotional stress or walking in cold weather, uphill, or after eating. When the heart doesn't get as much oxygen as it needs, it cannot work properly, ultimately leading to the pain and discomfort of angina.

"It started for me as jaw pain, but soon I was experiencing pronounced pain when walking up hills," recalls Carol, who is from Redwood City, Calif. "I kind of knew what it was, but didn't want to believe it. As a nurse accustomed to caring for heart patients, being officially diagnosed was the first time I felt mortal."

As with confronting any health condition, the first step in managing angina is acknowledging the symptoms. People experience angina differently. During an angina episode, most people feel uncomfortable pressure or pain in their chest. Others may feel indigestion, exhaustion or shortness of breath.

Even after she was diagnosed, Carol still lived in fear. She kept her fears to herself and quietly structured her life around her angina. She avoided activities which might provoke an attack - anything from changing the bed linens to walking briskly across a parking lot.

"Patients need to speak with their healthcare professionals about their symptoms and keep an ongoing dialogue even after a diagnosis," says Kathy Berra, MSN, ANP, FAAN, FPCNA, a board member of the Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association. "There are a number of treatment options available to help relieve and control angina to minimize its impact on daily life and patients should be aware of all of their options."

As a nurse, Carol understood the importance of communicating with her cardiologist, but she didn't want to admit how much her angina controlled her life. It was only when her symptoms worsened that she realized she needed to tell her doctor. The key to regaining control, she says, was learning to recognize the pattern of her specific angina symptoms and alerting her doctor when that pattern changed.

"Communication is a two-way street. To develop a proper treatment plan, your healthcare professional first has to know what specific symptoms you're experiencing, how often you have them, and are they getting worse," Berra explains. "The sooner you start having meaningful conversations with your provider, the sooner you can start living your life again."

A new online resource from Gilead Sciences,, includes tools to help patients have a more productive conversation with their cardiologist with a goal of leading to better management of chronic angina.

"Having angina doesn't mean you have to limit your life," Carol advises. "With the proper treatment you can control angina, instead of angina controlling you."

Photo courtesy of Getty Images