Cardiology is the branch of medicine that deals with the study and treatment of disorders of the cardiovascular system, specifically the heart, veins and arteries. Considered as a sub-specialty in internal medicine, it focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular conditions that range from congenital defects to heart diseases including congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease. Meanwhile, cardiologists are physicians who specialize in cardiology and are responsible for the medical management of various heart diseases. They carry out and interpret diagnostic tests and perform interventional procedures including angioplasty. They are different from cardiac surgeons who perform invasive procedures such as chest and heart surgery.
Among ailments diagnosed and treated by cardiologists include:
There are several sub-specialties in cardiology, which includes:
Nuclear Cardiology – this focuses on properly diagnosing cardiovascular diseases using infarction imaging, planar imaging, myocardial perfusion imaging and SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography).
Interventional Cardiology – the study that involves the use of intravascular catheter-based techniques in treating coronary artery disease, congenital cardiac and valvular conditions. Interventional cardiologists perform congenital heart defect corrections, valvuloplasties, coronary thrombectomy and angioplasties.
Echocardiography – this involves the use of machines equipped with ultrasound technology to create images of the heart chambers, valves and nearby structures. Echocardiography is used in identifying infections and structural abnormalities of the heart valves.
Cardiac Electrophysiology – this involves the study of the mechanism of electric currents occurring in the heart muscles to determine heart health. Electrophysiology tests measure electrical signals in the heart and diagnose abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias) and accelerated heart beat (tachycardia).
To qualify for training (fellowship) in cardiology, a physician must receive three years of training in internal medicine after medical school. This means a total of 10 years of medical education is required in order to practice cardiology. During the fellowship, a cardiologist receives intensive and specialized training for three years where he is trained on how to properly evaluate, diagnose and treat a variety of acute and chronic heart conditions.
The training program covers cardiovascular anatomy, physiology, metabolism and molecular biology, along with cardiovascular pharmacology that includes prescription drugs, metabolism, indications and adverse effects. Cardiologists also receive intensive training in cardiovascular pathology, biostatistics, and epidemiology.
Cardiologists acquire knowledge and competence in performing as well as interpreting procedures including physical examination, cardioversion, heart catheterization, insertion and management of pacemakers, and cardiovascular rehabilitation. They also acquire skills as well as learn techniques for managing coronary artery disease, hypertension, arrhythmias, cardiomyopathy, pericardial, valvular and pulmonary heart diseases, among others. Once training is completed, the physician then takes a cardiology examination overseen by the American Board of Internal Medicine or its equivalent in the doctor's home country.
A cardiologist is the right specialist to see for any conditions of the heart. A general practitioner will refer you to a cardiologist if he or she notices symptoms that suggest a heart condition, which typically include chest pains, dizzy spells, shortness of breath, or inexplicable fatigue. The cardiologist will often require special tests to make a diagnosis before presenting patients with treatment options.
Your cardiologist will first review your medical history and perform a thorough physical examination that includes checking the blood pressure, weight, breathing, and heartbeat. Depending on your symptoms, additional tests may be performed including:
The results of the tests are then interpreted to determine accurate diagnosis and recommend the most appropriate treatment plan to relieve the symptoms. Cardiologists may advise proper diet, cardiac rehabilitation, interventional techniques and lifestyle changes to prevent the further onset or worsening of the vascular condition. For more serious symptoms conditions, cardiologists may recommend you to see a cardiovascular surgeon if invasive treatment is necessary.