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Do I Need to See a Cardiologist?

By Maureen Salamon

Updated October 17, 2008

(LifeWire) - Some milestones go hand in hand with recommended health screenings. Mammograms, for instance, are typically first given at age 40, and colonoscopies, at age 50. But a first visit to see a cardiologist, who specializes in diagnosing and treating heart and blood vessel diseases, is not correlated with a specific gender or age.

When Should I See a Cardiologist?

Cardiologist consultations are typically recommended by a patient's primary care physician in response to either heightened risk factors for cardiovascular disease or symptoms that indicate it may already be present.

Because heart disease is America's number one killer -- affecting 80 million people -- doctors are keenly aware of the stakes in detecting or diagnosing it.

Am I at Risk for Heart Disease?

Major risk factors for heart disease, such as one or more immediate family members being affected or high blood pressure or cholesterol readings, may prompt your primary physician to refer you to a cardiologist. This referral may result in either a one-time visit or ongoing care, depending on the results.

A strong family history of heart disease, for example, may be the catalyst for an evaluation or for low-level tests to check heart function. If results prove normal, you may continue to be monitored by your primary doctor. More ominous findings, however, may spur further testing that can result in long-term cardiology care. You can estimate your own risk for heart disease here.

More commonly, certain symptoms cause patients to seek cardiology care that include:

  • Chest pain or discomfort known as angina, which often indicates narrowed arteries providing blood to the heart
  • Rhythm disturbances called arrhythmias, which can include palpitations or missed heartbeats
  • Shortness of breath, which can indicate congestive heart failure or valve problems
  • A cardiac event, such as a heart attack, which requires ongoing cardiology monitoring after the emergency passes

    Are There Different Kinds of Cardiologists?

    The field of cardiology has several subspecialties in which the cardiologist concentrates on specific heart problems. A patient's particular heart problem dictates which type of cardiologist is needed. Some of the subspecialties of cardiology include:

    • Cardiovascular surgeons, who perform coronary bypass surgery or other surgical procedures
    • Invasive cardiologists, who use tubes called catheters to perform angiograms, which can indicate narrowed arteries around the heart
    • Echocardiographers, who use equipment to create images of the heart in motion by the use of sound waves. These images can show how well the heart is pumping and if the valves are working normally or not.

    Preventive cardiology is also a subspecialty. Many hospitals across the United States devote facilities to patients and for doctors who want to monitor their cardiac risk factors. Such outpatient centers seek to prevent cardiac events by helping patients with lifestyle issues, such as weight, exercise or smoking. A retrospective clinical study, published in the 2007 journal, Preventive Cardiology, demonstrated that patients who participated in such a program had reduced cardiac risks.

    Sources:

    "Caring for Your Heart: Do You Have the Facts?." mcacc.org. 2008. Massachusetts Chapter, American College of Cardiology. 3 Oct. 2008 <http://www.mcacc.org/seeacardiologist.html>.



    Taveira, Tracey H., Wen-Chih Wu, Oanh J. Martin, Mark D. Schleinitz, Peter Friedmann, and Satish C. Sharma. "Pharmacist-Led Cardiac Risk Reduction Model." Preventive Cardiology 9:4(2007): 202-208. 6 Oct. 2008 <http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/118634341/abstract?C>.



    "The Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease." hopkinshospital.org. 2008. Johns Hopkins Medicine. 6 Oct. 2008 <http://www.hopkinsheart.org/clinical-services/centers-excellence/center-excellence-ciccarone.html>.



    "When Should You See a Cardiologist?" acc.org. 12 Mar. 2008. American College of Cardiology. 3 Oct. 2008 <http://www.acc.org/media/patient/caring_brochure2.htm>.


    LifeWire, a part of The New York Times Company, provides original and syndicated online lifestyle content. Maureen Salamon is a New Jersey-based freelance writer who has written for newspapers, websites and hospitals.

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