Who is a cardiologist?
A cardiologist is a doctor with special training in diagnosing, treating, and preventing the diseases of the heart and blood vessels. Cardiologists obtain extensive education and training. This includes four years of medical school and three years of training in general internal medicine. After the training in general internal medicine, they spend three or more years in specialized training. Following 10 or more years of education and training, a cardiologist must pass a rigorous two-day exam given by the American Board of Internal Medicine. The exam tests their knowledge, judgment, and the ability to provide superior care.
What does a cardiologist do?
A cardiologist specializes in finding, preventing and treating the diseases of the heart and blood vessels (cardiovascular diseases). The diseases are:
- Heart attack
- Heart failure
- High blood pressure
- Arrhythmias (abnormalities of heart rhythm)
- Heart valve problems
- Infections of the heart
A cardiologist may see their patients in their office or a hospital. They may:
- Perform a physical examination
- Order tests like blood tests, electrocardiogram (ECG), exercise stress test or imaging studies of the heart
- Understand and interpret test results to diagnose a medical condition a patient may have
- Prescribe treatment for a patient’s health conditions
- Advise lifestyle changes, such as modifications in diet, maintaining a healthy weight, managing stress and regular physical activity
- Provide counseling to prevent heart diseases
- Perform some procedures like cardiac catheterization or implant a pacemaker
- Refer you to a heart surgeon or an interventional cardiologist when necessary
Some cardiologists may also teach at universities and do research that may help create new treatments and diagnostic approaches for heart problems.
When should you go to a cardiologist?
Since cardiologists are specialist doctors, you may not visit them for consultations as often as you visit a primary healthcare provider. You may visit a cardiologist in the following situations:
- Your primary care physician refers you to a cardiologist
- Family history of cardiovascular diseases (health conditions related to the heart and blood vessels)
- Chest pain
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- History of high blood pressure during pregnancy (pre-eclampsia)
- Inborn heart diseases
- Low blood pressure
- Starting a new exercise or diet plan
At what age should you start seeing a cardiologist?
There is no definitive age recommended to start seeing a cardiologist. It is advised to have an annual physical examination from a primary care physician when you get into middle age. They may refer you to a cardiologist if necessary. You may need to see a cardiologist early if you have:
- Congenital (inborn) diseases of the heart
- Been referred by your primary care physician
- Unhealthy lifestyle: Lack of physical activity, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, unhealthy diet and stress factors
- Chronic health conditions
- Symptoms of cardiovascular disease like chest/jaw/shoulder pain, palpitations, excessive sweating, dizziness and uneasiness.
The only tests related to the heart that most people, who are not experiencing symptoms, need are measurement of blood cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels and blood pressure.
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