A cardiologist is a physician who assesses and treats problems with the heart, arteries, and veins. Some of the conditions cardiologists evaluate and treat include: coronary artery disease; arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms); hypertension (high blood pressure); cardiomyopathy (an inflamed heart muscle); disease in the heart valves; pericardial disease (inflammation of the membrane that surrounds the heart); pulmonary heart disease (disease that results from lung disorders); peripheral vascular disease (plaque buildup in the arteries that impedes blood flow); cerebrovascular disease (disease in the blood vessels supplying the brain); heart disease during pregnancy; injuries to the heart due to accidents or trauma; congestive heart failure (the heart cannot pump enough blood to other organs), and myocardial infarction (heart attack or death of the heart muscle).
In order to effectively assess this wide array of conditions, cardiologists learn several different diagnostic techniques, such as: cardiac catheterization (placing a thin flexible tube into the right or left side of the heart via the groin or the arm); echocardiography (a moving picture of the heart created by sound waves); coronary arteriography tests (using X-rays to find narrowing or blockage in the arteries); exercise stress testing; ECG (electrical recordings of the heart’s electrical activity); pericardiocentesis (using a needle to collect fluid from the pericardial sac); and noninvasive imaging techniques (MRI, CT, and PET scans).
Cardiologists use different treatments, depending on the specific needs and medical conditions of each patient. Some of the more common therapies include: pacemakers (small devices that are placed under the skin of the chest or abdomen to help control abnormal heart rhythms); defibrillators (devices that uses electrical pulses to help control life-threatening irregular heartbeats); intra-aortic balloon pumps (devices that decrease oxygen demand while increasing blood flow and oxygen delivery); and percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty (using a slender balloon-tipped tube to dilate narrowed arteries).
In order to become a cardiologist, doctors must first become board certified internal medicine physicians. After additional training, doctors can also become board certified cardiologists by taking a comprehensive examination in this area of expertise. Cardiologists with the initials FACC in their title are designated Fellows of The American College of Cardiology (FACC). This designation represents recognition of high professional achievement in one of the cardiovascular subspecialties.
These subspecialties include:
Interventional cardiology, or expertise in procedures such as catheterization, balloon angioplasty, and the use of special devices to remove plaque from arteries.
Electrophysiology, or expertise in the assessment and treatment of the electrical system of the heart with pacemakers and defibrillators.