A cardiologist is a doctor who specializes in the monitoring and treatment of your heart and blood vessels. They can treat or help you prevent a number of cardiovascular problems. They may also specialize in certain areas, such as abnormal heart rhythms, heart failure, or heart problems you've had since birth.
What Do Cardiologists Do and How Do They Work in America?
After completing four years of medical school, cardiologists spend three years learning established general internal medicine, followed by at least three more years of residency training after that.
After 10 years of training, a cardiologist can sit for the American Board of Internal Medicine exam. Even after obtaining board certification, cardiologists continue to learn as they work. They must keep up with the latest developments in how to treat patients to provide the best care.
A cardiologist is a medical professional who treats heart conditions, high blood pressure, heart failure, abnormalities of your heart valves and blood vessels, as well as other cardiovascular conditions. They may order tests such as an electrocardiogram, echocardiogram, and CT scans to find out what the problem is. With their diagnosis, they can prescribe medication, advise you on how to start exercising and eat a healthier diet, or perform cardiac catheterization.
A cardiologist will perform a physical exam and talk to you about your symptoms, medical history, and family history. If you have other heart conditions in your family, it is very important to report this to your cardiologist, as it can increase your risk of developing heart disease.
Your cardiologist can learn important details about your cardiovascular health from some simple details such as:
- Body weight
- arterial pressure
- cholesterol level
- blood sugar (glucose) levels
Your doctor will consider all of this data and any test results to determine your risk factors for cardiac problems. He or she will also ask about your smoking status, exercise level, diet, and medications you are taking.
What conditions do cardiologists help you avoid or treat?
Atherosclerosis is just one of many cardiovascular conditions that cardiologists can treat.
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Angina (chest pain)
- unexpected cardiac arrest
- heart attack.
- Chest pains.
- blood clots
- Atrial fibrillation and other irregular heartbeats.
- cardiovascular shock
- heart valve problems.
- abnormal heartbeats.
- Inflammation of the heart muscle.
Congenital (from birth) conditions
- Problems with your aorta (aneurysm, stenosis)
- Problems with your arteries (peripheral artery disease, subclavian artery disease, renal artery disease, coronary artery disease)
What types of tests does a cardiologist do?
A cardiologist may order the following tests, but other healthcare providers may do some of these tests:
- cardiac catheterization
- Chest x-ray
- Cardiac MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
- Cardiac CT (computed tomography)
- Coronary angiogram.
- stress tests.
- Electrocardiogram (ECG).
- Transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE).
- Holter monitor.
- event monitor.
- Embeddable event recorder/embedable loop recorder.
When to See a Cardiologist
If you have a problem with your heart or blood vessels that need extra care, your primary care provider may refer you to a cardiologist. If you feel chest pain, dizziness or shortness of breath, you may need to see a cardiologist. Your cardiologist may continue to work with you for an extended period of time as they monitor your condition.
What to expect at a cardiologist appointment
A cardiologist will perform a physical exam, paying particular attention to listening to your heart. They can hear how well the blood is flowing in your heart and whether you have an irregular heart rhythm.
Be prepared to answer questions about your family history and your own medical history. Your cardiologist will want to find out if siblings, parents, or other members of your family have heart problems. Having this information can help your cardiologist know what kind of heart problems you may have.
How long have you been experiencing these symptoms?
How do you feel when you have symptoms (mild pain, sharp pain)?
What were you doing (resting, exerting yourself) when your symptoms started?
Is there anything that helps you feel better when you have symptoms?
Have you had heart surgery or surgery in the past?
Do you have any browsing logs?
What medications are you currently taking?
If your cardiologist has equipment in place, he or she can do an electrocardiogram to quickly read your heart's rhythm. They may also set up a separate appointment for other tests that take a little longer and require special scanning machines available only in hospitals.
Cardiologist Branch Differences
There are at least a dozen different types of cardiologists. They specialize in different types of cardiovascular problems, such as cardiac imaging or cardiac rehabilitation.
While all cardiologists are experts in understanding your heart and blood vessels, they can narrow their field of expertise even further. Types of cardiologist include:
- clinical cardiologist
- heart failure specialist
- interventional cardiologist
- congenital heart specialist
- cardiac imaging specialist
- Peripheral interventional cardiologist
- preventive cardiologist
- cardiac rehabilitation specialist
- geriatric cardiologist
- sports cardiologist
- intensive care cardiologist
Do I need a referral to see a cardiologist?
It depends. Some insurance plans may require a referral from your primary care provider, so check with your insurance company for details. This can help you avoid the unwanted surprises associated with a higher cost than you might expect when visiting a cardiologist. Seeing a specialist like a cardiologist is often more expensive than your primary care provider, but following your insurance company's guidelines will save you money.
What does a cardiologist specialize in?
A cardiologist specializes in heart disease, the leading cause of death in America. Cardiologists may work in more specialized areas of heart care, such as the treatment of heart failure, heart rhythm problems, or congenital (from birth) conditions.
Where do cardiologists work?
You can see a cardiologist at the hospital where they work. Other cardiologists may have their own private offices where they see patients. They may send you to a hospital or other medical facility for testing or procedures.
A note from the Cleveland Clinic
You may need a cardiologist if you have a problem with your heart or blood vessels. Depending on your situation, you may need a specific cardiologist who is an expert in your situation. Your primary care provider can refer you to a cardiologist, but you need to be comfortable with the person your provider chooses. If you feel they are not communicating well with you, you may need to find a provider that does.