What is a cardiologist?
A cardiologist is a doctor with special training and expertise in diagnosing, treating, and preventing diseases of the heart and blood vessels. Cardiologists receive extensive education and training: four years of medical school and three years of training in general internal medicine. Following this, cardiologists then receive three or more years of specialized training.
Why would I need to see a cardiologist?
If you’re having problems relating to your heart and function of the surrounding blood vessels, your general physician may see some of the symptoms, but then it’s time to see a cardiologist to ensure the best path of treatment to either respond to heart conditions or to prevent further damage. You could equate it to seeing an orthopedic specialist if you damage your knee, rather than having your GP treat it. When it comes to something as critical to your health as your cardiovascular system, training and specialization is important to the best outcomes.
When should I see a cardiologist?
Your primary care physician will usually refer you to a cardiologist. Various symptoms or existing conditions would merit this. For instance, shortness of breath, chest pains, or dizzy spells all could point to special cardiovascular testing that is out of the realm of your primary care physician. Of, if your doctor finds a heart murmur or other irregularity, that would dictate a referral.
If you have heart disease, a cardiologist will be the doctor to help you return to health. Of course, if you have a heart attack, heart failure, or serious heart rhythm problems, those are all situations where a cardiologist will lead the care.
What happens at a cardiologist appointment?
Your visit with a cardiologist will be unique to your situation. He or she may see you in their office or in the hospital. The visit will include a review of your medical history and a physical examination including checking your blood pressure, weight, heart, lungs, and blood vessels.
At this point, your cardiologist may see the need for more involved tests such as an electrocardiogram (ECG), x-rays, blood tests, and others.
Beyond that, the two of you will discuss lifestyle issues or certain medicines that may be necessary to prevent future problems or address ongoing conditions.
What are the typical symptoms of a heart attack?
If you experience certain symptoms, these are warning signs of a heart attack. Some heart attacks are sudden and intense, but most start slowly with mild pain or discomfort.
- Chest discomfort — Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes. Or it can go away and then return. The feeling will be one of squeezing, pressure, fullness, or pain.
- Discomfort in other areas of the upper body — Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or even the stomach.
- Shortness of breath — This may occur with or without chest pain.
- Other signs — Nausea, vomiting, lightheadedness, and breaking out in a cold sweat can all point to a heart attack.
What kinds of tests may the cardiologist recommend or perform?
Your cardiologist can call for a variety of tests for further evidence that your symptoms are tied to a cardiovascular problem. These are the main tests usually used, but there could be others, as well.
- Echocardiogram — This test uses ultrasound waves to create a picture of the heart, allowing your cardiologist to check the structure and function.
- Ambulatory ECG — This usually involves the wearing of a Holter monitor, which records your heart’s activity during a 24-hour period. This is used to check for arrhythmias, abnormal heart rhythms.
- Exercise stress test — This test has the patient walk or run on a treadmill while attached to various monitors. This tells your cardiologist how well your heart is able to handle work.
- Cardiac catheterization — This is an invasive test where a catheter is inserted into a large blood vessel and is then moved into the heart. There instruments placed at the tip can measure blood pressure in each heart chamber and in the surrounding blood vessels, can view the interior of the blood vessels, or even remove a tissue sample.