Cardiologists are doctors who work with the heart and blood vessels. They diagnose, treat, and work to prevent diseases of the heart, such as coronary artery disease, heart rhythm abnormalities, congenital heart disease, and more. They also act as consultants to other physicians.
In recognition of World Heart Day, St. George’s University (SGU) Grenada, in the Caribbean, provides an overview of what a cardiologist is and the different specialties within cardiology.
Given how widespread heart disease is today, cardiologists are needed more than ever. The World Heart Federation reveals that cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the Middle East and North Africa region and is responsible for more than one-third of all deaths, approximately 1.4 million people, every year.
Most patients see a cardiologist when they are referred by their general practitioner. They may be experiencing shortness of breath, heart murmurs, electrocardiogram (ECG) changes, or chest pain. A cardiologist can then examine these symptoms to diagnose a condition and create an effective treatment or management plan.
Cardiologists are also involved in more serious cases. Their expertise is needed for surgeries performed on the organs in the chest. Cardiologists work in both outpatient settings and hospitals. When they see a patient, they typically perform a physical exam. They may also order some tests, such as ECGs, X-rays, or blood work.
Different types of cardiologists
Cardiology is a subspecialty of internal medicine and in 2023, SGU placed over 350 graduates into US internal medicine residencies*. But cardiology itself also has a number of subspecialties of its own. The American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) offers certification in these areas:
Advanced heart failure and transplant cardiology: Doctors who practice this cardiovascular subspecialty manage advanced heart failure cases and transplant patients. These cardiologists perform surgical procedures and act as consultants for other physicians managing patients with significant heart failure.
Adult congenital heart disease: Doctors who focus on adult congenital heart disease work with patients who have one or more defects in their heart or blood vessel structures. They often need to coordinate with numerous other providers to provide long-term care.
Clinical cardiac electrophysiology: Physicians who subspecialize in clinical cardiac electrophysiology focus on managing complex heart rhythm disorders. These specialists perform both noninvasive and invasive diagnostic procedures. They prescribe medication, implant electrical devices, and leverage other international techniques.
Interventional cardiology: Interventional cardiology involves specialized imaging and diagnostic techniques to evaluate different areas of the cardiovascular system. Many of these procedures are performed using a catheter.
Advanced cardiovascular imaging: Cardiologists who specialize in advanced imaging have extensive training in Advanced Cardiovascular Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Cardiovascular Computed Tomographic (CCT).
It’s clear that this essential role involves everything from disease prevention to managing complex conditions. If heart disease does run in your family, make sure to discuss it with your general practitioner. They may end up referring you to a cardiologist if cardiovascular problems become an issue.