What Is a Cardiologist?

Cardiologists specialize in diagnosing and treating diseases and conditions that affect the cardiovascular system, consisting of the heart and blood vessels. These specialists practice the prevention and health care for patients with heat-related illness and cardiovascular disease as well as cardiac emergencies.

When you are dealing with a complex health condition like heart disease, it is important that you find the right match between you and your specialist. A diagnosis of heart or vascular disease often begins with your primary care doctor, who then refers you to a cardiologist. The cardiologist evaluates your symptoms and your medical history and may recommend tests for a more definite diagnosis. Then, your cardiologist decides if your condition can be managed under his or her care using medicines or other available treatments. If your cardiologist decides that you need surgery, he or she refers you to a cardiovascular surgeon, who specializes in operations on the heart, lungs, and blood vessels. You remain under the care of your cardiologist even when you are referred to other specialists.

What Does a Cardiologist Do?

Cardiologists are qualified to treat heart attacksheart failureheart valve diseasearrhythmia, and high blood pressure. Cardiologists work in hospitals as well as private practices. 

To make a diagnosis, cardiologists may give physical exams, order tests — such as an electrocardiogram (EKG), blood tests, exercise stress tests — as well as interpret tests. They may also prescribe medicine, recommend lifestyle changes such as diet, exercise, reducing stress levels, and managing weight. Cardiologists can perform procedures such as implanting a pacemaker or inserting a cardiac catheter.

Cardiologists may teach at universities and do research within labs to develop new treatments. 

When should I See a Cardiologist?

There are many symptoms associated with the heart that might lead you to visit a cardiovascular specialist. You should see a cardiologist if you have:

Shortness of Breath

Being unable to catch your breath can be a warning sign of a heart problem and should be addressed with a doctor immediately. If you have severe shortness of breath, you should call 911.

Dizziness

Dizziness is a feeling of unsteadiness and can be described as a swirling or spinning sensation focused in the head. Dizziness can point to many different conditions, including heart disease or unstable blood pressure.

Fainting Spells

Fainting can be described as a sudden loss of consciousness. It is caused by low blood flow to the brain. Lightheadedness and dizziness are often signaling that someone might faint.

Fainting spells can be brought on by many causes, such as low blood sugarpanic attacksanemia, or heart disease. You should address fainting spells with your physician, especially if you experience them regularly. 

Chest Pains

Chest pain — also known as angina — often occurs when the heart doesn’t get enough oxygen. The pain can sometimes be diverted to the shoulder, arm, and jaw. While not all chest pain is angina, it should always be addressed with your doctor. 

Call emergency if you have any of these symptoms along with chest pain:

  • A sudden feeling of squeezing, tightness, or pressure under your breastbone
  • Pain that spreads to your jaw, left arm, or back
  • Sudden sharp chest pain with shortness of breath, especially following a period of inactivity
  • Nausea, dizziness, rapid heart rate or rapid breathing, confusion, ashen color, or excessive sweating
  • Very low blood pressure or very low heart rate
Fluttering Sensation in the Chest

Heart flutters may be experienced as:

  • Palpitations (fast beats)
  • The heart “skipping a beat”
  • Erratic thumping in the chest
  • A racing heart

Fluttering sensations may relate to heart disease or disorders and should be discussed with your doctor. 

What to Expect at the Cardiologist

When you visit the cardiologist, they will talk with you to learn more about your symptoms and your habits. They may also perform a series of tests to identify specific cardiovascular conditions. Testing on cardiologist patients may include:

  • EKG
  • Cardiac catheterization
  • Ultrasound
  • Cardiac biopsy
  • Stress test

These tests will evaluate your overall heart health. Once the cardiologist analyzes your test results, they will diagnose your condition and recommend a treatment plan. Common cardiology conditions include congenital heart disease, coronary artery disease, and vascular disease.

Cardiologist treatment plans may include prescriptions or advice about diet and lifestyle changes. More serious conditions may require heart surgery of varying degrees.

What does cardiology involve?

A cardiologist will review a patient’s medical history and carry out a physical examination.

They may check the person’s weight, heart, lungs, blood pressure, and blood vessels, and carry out some tests.

An interventional cardiologist may carry out procedures such as angioplasties, stenting, valvuloplasties, congenital heart defect corrections, and coronary thrombectomies.

Tests?

They may also carry out or order tests as listed below:

Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG): This records the electrical activity of the heart.

Ambulatory ECG: this records heart rhythms while the person carries out exercise or their regular activities. Small metal electrodes are stuck on to the chest, and these are connected by wires to a Holter monitor, which records the rhythms.

An exercise test, or stress test: this shows the changes of heart rhythm when resting and exercising. It measures the performance and limitations of the heart.

Echocardiogram: this provides an ultrasound picture that shows the structure of the heart chambers and surrounding areas, and it can show how well the heart is working.

Echocardiography can measure how well the heart is pumping blood, known as cardiac output. It can detect inflammation around the heart, known as pericarditis. It can also identify structural abnormalities or infections of the heart valves.

Cardiac catheterization: a small tube in or near the heart collects data and may help relieve a blockage. It can take pictures and check the functioning of the heart and the electrical system. Catheter-based techniques with fluoroscopy can be used to treat congenital cardiac, valvular, and coronary artery diseases.

Nuclear cardiology: nuclear imaging techniques use radioactive materials to study cardiovascular disorders and diseases in a non-invasive way.

Examples are infarction imaging, single-photon-emission computed tomography (SPECT), planar imaging, and myocardial perfusion imaging.

Cardiac electrophysiology

Cardiac electrophysiology is a subspecialty of cardiology. The physician looks at how electric currents inside the heart muscle tissue work, how the current spreads, and what the pattern of the currents means.

Electrophysiology study (EPS) of the heart: in this test, a catheter is threaded into a vein at the top of the leg. Guided under fluoroscopy, it makes its way to the heart. The catheter measures the electrical signals within the heart.

An EPS of the heart can:

  • help to show what is causing symptoms
  • help decide if a patient needs a pacemaker
  • help decide the best treatment for patients with arrhythmia, or abnormal heart rhythm
  • determine how likely a patient is to experience tachycardia or an accelerated heartbeat

A cardiac electrophysiologist can provide treatment for abnormal rhythms including cardiac ablation, implantable cardioverter defibrillators, or pacemakers.

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