What does a Cardiologist do?
Cardiologists are physicians who have received additional training to prevent, diagnose and treat conditions of the cardiovascular system, which includes the heart and the body's blood vessels. Before practicing as a cardiologist, physicians must graduate from medical school, complete a residency and become board-certified in internal medicine, and then complete a fellowship in cardiology. Cardiology residencies typically last three years, and fellowships are a minimum of three years, making at least six years of training beyond medical school. The roles and responsibilities of a cardiologist can vary, but certain generalities are possible.
Cardiologists routinely receive referrals from other physicians who would like confirmation that a patient has a cardiovascular condition or who would like advice on how to best treat the patient. Cardiologists are also called for assistance in hospital settings when a patient has a heart attack, serious arrhythmia or heart failure. As they are seldom the first physicians to see a patient, cardiologists must quickly review the patient's medical history and ask questions regarding symptoms.
Ordering and Interpreting Tests
Often, a cardiologist needs to order tests to make a diagnosis or decide upon the best treatment options. Cardiologists may ask patients to have an echocardiogram, a test that creates a picture of the heart's structure and records its functionality. A stress test measures how the patient's heart performs under physical activity. Blood tests and x-rays may help a cardiologist with a diagnosis or treatment plan. A cardiac catheterization involves placing a small tube near or in the heart to check electrical impulses, take pictures or help clear a blockage. Once tests are completed, cardiologists must interpret the results.
Once a cardiologist knows what is wrong with a patient, he must decide on the best treatment option. He may need to refer the patient to a cardiovascular surgeon for an operation, such as a valve replacement. He may decide that the patient's condition is best treated by medication. At times, a change in lifestyle is required, and cardiologists may counsel patients on how to effect the desired changes. Cardiologists may see patients for follow-up care, such as examining a patient at regular intervals following a heart attack. They may serve as part of a patient's medical team, collaborating with other physicians and health care professionals to optimize the patient's health.
Performing Invasive Procedures
Normally, a cardiologist is not a surgeon. However, some cardiologists perform limited invasive procedures, such as cardiac catheterizations, defibrillator implants and pacemaker insertion.
When should I see a Cardiologist?
If your physician feels that you might have a heart condition or are at risk, you will often be referred to a cardiologist. Symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pains, and dizziness may warrant additional testing.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, so it is important to keep up with your heart health. Regular checkups with your physician may lead to further analyses performed by your cardiologist. The often you do it, the better chance you stand to prevent any heart damage.