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The Cardiologist

A cardiologist is a doctor who has had extra training to treat problems of the heart and blood vessels. A cardiologist has at least 10 years of medical training. This includes 4 years of medical school, 3 years of training in internal medicine, and 3 or more years in other special training. He or she must then pass a test from the American Board of Internal Medicine.

When would I see a cardiologist?

This kind of doctor is not a person’s primary health care provider. Cardiologists only work with patients who need special heart-related care. Other doctors may consult with them with questions about heart disease or other conditions. Your health care provider may refer you to a cardiologist if you have symptoms of heart or blood vessel problems. These may include shortness of breath, dizziness, and fluttering feelings in your chest.

What does a cardiologist do?

A cardiologist diagnoses and treats diseases of the heart and blood vessels. These include:

  • Heart attack

  • Heart failure

  • Valve problems

  • Heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias)

Cardiologists work in hospitals and in private practices. If you see a cardiologist, he or she may:

  • Give you a physical exam

  • Order special tests, such as an ECG, blood test, or exercise test

  • Interpret the results of tests to diagnose a health condition you may have

  • Prescribe treatment, such as medication

  • Advise lifestyle changes, such as changes in your diet, weight, stress, and physical activity

  • Counsel you on risks and prevention

  • Do some procedures, such as cardiac catheterization or implant a pacemaker

  • Refer you to a cardiac surgeon if you need heart surgery or another procedure

Some cardiologists also teach in universities and do research. They may help to develop new treatments for heart problems.

Special types of cardiologist

A cardiologist will often focus his or her care on one type of patient. An adult cardiologist sees only adult patients. A pediatric cardiologist sees only infant, child, or teen patients. Pediatric cardiologists are certified by the American Board of Pediatrics.

A cardiologist may get extra training in a special area of heart care. The American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) certifies doctors in the specialty of cardiovascular disease. This focuses on caring for patients with diseases of the heart and blood vessels. These include heart attack, valve disease, and some arrhythmias.

Doctors who are certified in cardiovascular disease by ABIM can also be certified in a subspecialty. These include:

  • Advanced heart failure and transplant cardiology. This focuses on caring for patients who have heart failure and may need a heart transplant.

  • Clinical cardiac electrophysiology. This focuses on testing and treating the heart for rhythm problems.

  • Interventional cardiology. This focuses on putting catheters in blood vessels to find and treat problems in the vessels and the heart.