Cardiologists are medical physicians specifically trained in diagnosing and treating disorders of the heart or vascular system. Common areas of diagnosis and treatment may include congenital defects, coronary artery disease, heart failure, heart valve disorders, and pathological problems with the electrical system of the heart. Most of the treatment modalities in this specialty are non-surgical. In comparison, cardiothoracic and cardiovascular surgeons treat heart problems with surgical interventions such as sternotomy.
The training for cardiologists is extensive and rigorous. In addition to the usual four years of medical school, they are required to complete at least three years in a general internal medicine residency program and another three or more years in specialized fellowship heart training. The American Board of Internal Medicine is the governing body that conducts cardiology examinations and provides board certification to physicians across the country. The American College of Cardiology grants professional designation to certain cardiologists based on their outstanding performance, achievements, credentials and community contributions. The most common way to be appointed as a fellow of the American College of Cardiology is through a letter from a superior or peer.
Patients are often referred to cardiologists when their primary care provider feels their situation or symptoms would benefit from the input of a physician that specializes in the heart. Specific symptoms that may raise a red flag include shortness of breath with or without exertion, chest pain, fatigue, dizziness, syncope, detection of a heart murmur, family history of heart problems, or a specific diagnoses of cardiovascular disease. Tests may include measurements of the electrical activity of the heart and stress testing while walking on a treadmill. X-rays and laboratory blood analysis can also be helpful in assisting physicians in diagnosing specific heart problems.
Disorders of the heart may be due to a variety of causes including atherosclerosis, coronary artery disease, angina, myocardial infarction, ventricular fibrillation, pulseless electrical activity, asystole, sudden cardiac death, cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure, ventricular hypertrophy, myxomal tumors, aortic insufficiency or stenosis, mitral valve prolapse, or Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. Some common congenital heart disorders include atrial septal defect, patent ductus arteriosus, Tetralogy of Fallot, transposition of the great vessels, and truncus arteriosus. Each disorder is recognized by a specific pattern of physical disease or blood test. Interventions aimed at reducing symptoms or saving a life may include surgical and non-surgical aspects.
Cardiologists prescribe a variety of medications including sodium channel blockers, potassium channel blockers, beta-adrenergic blockers, ACE inhibitors, angiotensin II receptor antagonists, and calcium channel blockers. Each type of treatment is aimed at a different function of the heart or its electrical system and can be particularly tailored to meet the needs of the specific patient disorder. Medication management and routine analysis of interactions are often paramount for cardiology patients as they tend to be older and on a lot of other concurrent medications for other diseases and disorders.
If you have questions about your heart, consult your primary care physician or a cardiologist in your area today. Be sure to find a doctor you can talk openly with that will listen to your questions and concerns without hesitation.