Hundreds of thousands of Americans die of heart disease each year, yet many people still don't know the symptoms and early warning signs of heart disease. Unexplained fatigue, difficulty breathing, chest pain and heart palpitations, even if sporadic, can all signify early heart disease and should be reported to your doctor right away. If left untreated, heart disease will progress and can eventually lead to heart attack and death. People who are diagnosed with heart disease have numerous treatment options with the top three being medications, dietary changes and lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking or starting an exercise plan. That said, each person's treatment depends on the nature of his heart disease. When talking to your doctor about heart disease, ask the following questions to better understand how heart disease may affect you.

Am I at risk for heart disease?

There are several factors that may increase your risk of heart disease, including smoking, high cholesterol, obesity and having a family history of heart disease. Discuss your risk factors with your doctor and ask whether you have an increased risk of developing heart disease. If so, talk to your doctor about ways you can lower your risk. 

Do I have heart disease?

Your doctor may need to perform several diagnostic tests to determine whether or not you have heart disease, and if so, how advanced the condition is. Once the tests are complete, ask your doctor whether you have heart disease and what that means going forward. Remember, heart disease is not necessarily a death sentence, as long as you follow your doctor's treatment recommendations closely. 

What can I do to lower my risk of heart disease?

If you do not yet have heart disease, there may be ways you can lower your risk of developing the condition. Talk to your doctor about lifestyle, dietary and other changes you can make to help reduce your risk of heart disease. Remember to follow your doctor's instructions carefully to lower your risk as much as possible. If you need help quitting smoking, talk to your doctor about products or medications that may make quitting easier. 

Are there specific exercises that I should or should not do?

Exercise is good for your heart, but if you have heart disease, your doctor may want you to focus on specific types of exercise, while avoiding others. Always talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise program. 

Can I reverse my heart disease?

Depending on the type of heart disease, you may be able to reverse some of the effects through diet, exercise, medication and other treatment options. Only your doctor can tell you for certain whether your heart disease is reversible, and if so, how you can safely work to stop the progression or reverse heart disease. Always follow your doctor's recommendations closely.

What medications are you prescribing, and how should they be used?

Your doctor may prescribe certain medications to help control symptoms of heart disease. Make sure you understand the medications you'll be taking and how you should take them. You should also ask about any side effects you may experience while taking the medication, and what to do in the case of severe or rare side effects. 

Which type of heart disease do I have?

There are several types of heart disease, some congenital (present at birth) and others develop over time. The type of heart disease you have will determine what type of treatment you will need. If your doctor diagnoses you with heart disease, ask which type of heart disease you are being diagnosed with, what might have caused the heart disease, and what that means for your treatment.