If the severity of your risk factors appears to put you at significant risk of heart attack or stroke, or if the lifestyle modifications you are trying and the medications you have been taking to control your risk factors are not successful, then your primary care physician may refer you to a cardiologist. A cardiologist is a physician who has completed four years of medical school, three years of training in internal medicine, and up to three or four additional years of education and experience focused specifically on treating the heart, arteries, and veins.
After your primary care physician refers you to a cardiologist, he or she continues to be a key player on your cardiovascular care team and will coordinate your care across various specialties and clinics and help you manage your condition over the long term. Your primary care doctor and your cardiologist should communicate with each other about
- your overall condition,
- results of your diagnostic tests,
- outcomes of treatments, and
- any changes in your health status.
Your primary care physician or cardiologist may refer you to cardiologists with additional education and training in a subspecialty. For example, interventional cardiologists specialize in procedures such as angioplasty and stenting. Other cardiology specialists include cardiovascular surgeons, who perform bypass procedures; electrophysiologists, who specialize in the heart's electrical system and irregular heartbeats; imaging specialists, who use images of the patient's heart to diagnose problems; preventive cardiologists, who work on preventing future problems; and congenital heart disease / pediatric cardiologists, who specialize in heart conditions in children and in heart defects that were present when the patient was born.
While you are under the care of your cardiology team, you may work with other health professionals, including the following:
This content requires Flash Player.
Dr. Kimberly A. Skelding, Geisinger Medical Center, describes many of the specialties within the field of cardiology and the work of the cardiologists within each of these specialties.
What to Expect from a Visit to a Cardiologist
When you go to a cardiologist for the first time, as with any physician, there are things you can do to prepare in advance.
- Compile a personal health history and a health history of your family.
- Gather together any recent test results and a list of medications you are taking.
- Jot down notes about symptoms you have been experiencing.
- Make a list of questions you want to ask your doctor.
To learn more about your condition, your cardiologist may refer you for any of a number of non-invasive diagnostic tests. Non-invasive refers to tests that do not require insertion of diagnostic tubes into the heart or arteries. Here are some examples of tests your cardiologist may request: