What Is a Cardiologist?

Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on November 24, 2020

The prominence of heart disease in America makes a cardiologist a very important health profession. Cardiologists are doctors who specialize in the treatment of the cardiovascular system—which includes the heart and blood vessels. Cardiologists also educate habits that promote heart health. 

What Does a Cardiologist Do?

Cardiologists are qualified to treat heart attacks, heart failure, heart valve disease, arrhythmia, and high blood pressure. Cardiologists work in hospitals as well as private practices. 

To make a diagnosis, cardiologists may give physical exams, order tests — such an electrocardiogram (EKG), blood tests, exercise stress tests — as well as interpret tests. They may also prescribe medicine, recommend lifestyle changes such as diet, exercise, reducing stress levels and managing weight. Cardiologists can perform procedures such as implanting a pacemaker or inserting a cardiac catheter.

Cardiologists may teach at universities and do research within labs to develop new treatments. 

Education and Training

These doctors have trained specifically in the field of cardiology. Cardiologists typically go through medical school before focusing on heart-related specialties. 

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A typical cardiologist undergoes at least 10 years of medical training. This includes four years of medical school and three years of training within internal medicine. Finally, a cardiologist must undergo three additional years of medical training specific to cardiology.

They must then pass a cardiovascular disease exam given by the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM).

Reasons to See a Cardiologist

There are many symptoms associated with the heart that might lead you to visit a cardiovascular specialist. You should see a cardiologist if you have:

Shortness of Breath

Being unable to catch your breath can be a warning sign of a heart problem and should be addressed with a doctor immediately. If you have severe shortness of breath, you should call 911.

Dizziness

Dizziness is a feeling of unsteadiness and can be described as a swirling or spinning sensation focused in the head. Dizziness can point to many different conditions, including heart disease or unstable blood pressure.

Fainting Spells

Fainting can be described as a sudden loss of consciousness. It is caused by low blood flow to the brain. Lightheadedness and dizziness are often signals that someone might faint.

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Fainting spells can be brought on by many causes, such as low blood sugar, panic attacks, anemia, or heart disease. You should address fainting spells with your physician, especially if you experience them regularly. 

Chest Pains

Chest pain — also known as angina — often occurs when the heart doesn’t get enough oxygen. The pain can sometimes be diverted to the shoulder, arm, and jaw. While not all chest pain is angina, it should always be addressed with your doctor. 

Call 911 if you have any of these symptoms along with chest pain:

  • A sudden feeling of squeezing, tightness, or pressure under your breastbone
  • Pain that spreads to your jaw, left arm, or back
  • Sudden sharp chest pain with shortness of breath, especially following a period of inactivity
  • Nausea, dizziness, rapid heart rate or rapid breathing, confusion, ashen color, or excessive sweating
  • Very low blood pressure or very low heart rate

Fluttering Sensation in the Chest

Heart flutters may be experienced as:

  • Palpitations (fast beats)
  • The heart “skipping a beat”
  • Erratic thumping in the chest
  • A racing heart

Fluttering sensations may relate to heart disease or disorders and should be discussed with your doctor. 

What to Expect at the Cardiologist

When you visit the cardiologist, they will talk with you to learn more about your symptoms and your habits. They may also perform a series of tests to identify specific cardiovascular conditions. Testing on cardiologist patients may include:

These tests will evaluate your overall heart health. Once the cardiologist analyzes your test results, they will diagnose your condition and recommend a treatment plan. Common cardiology conditions include congenital heart disease, coronary artery disease, and vascular disease.

Cardiologist treatment plans may include prescriptions or advice about diet and lifestyle changes. More serious conditions may require heart surgery of varying degrees.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

American Board of Internal Medicine: “CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE POLICIES.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Heart Disease Facts.”

Columbia University Department of Medicine:“Conditions and Treatments.”

Texas Heart Institute: “What is a Cardiologist?”

University of Rochester Medical Center: “The Cardiologist.

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