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Working with a Cardiologist

Doctor listening to a woman's heart

Your primary care physician can provide routine checkups, vaccines and offer treatment when you’re not feeling well.

But when you have a heart problem, your primary care physician may not have all the answers. You might need to see with a doctor who specializes in heart conditions. 

What is a Cardiologist?

Cardiologists are doctors who have extra education and training in preventing, diagnosing and treating heart conditions. They are experts on the heart muscle itself and the arteries and veins that carry blood. 

Primary care physicians see lots of different kinds of illnesses throughout the day, while cardiologists focus specifically on heart problems. They’re a good place to turn if you want to manage your risk of heart disease, or if you find out that you have heart disease. 

Types of Cardiologists

There are many specialties under the category of cardiology. Here are some of the most common types of cardiologists. 

  1. General cardiologist: A doctor who oversees care for adults with heart disease
  2. Congenital cardiologist: A doctor who treats heart conditions that were present from birth or during childhood
  3. Heart failure cardiologist: A doctor who has special training in managing patients with heart failure.  
  4. Interventional cardiologist: A doctor who uses non-surgical procedures to repair damaged or weakened arteries, veins, and other parts of the heart
  5. Electrophysiologist: A doctor who specializes in the heart’s electrical system and treats irregular heart rhythms
  6. Cardiovascular surgeon: A highly-trained surgeon who performs surgery on the heart and chest

Picking a Cardiologist

For many people, choosing a cardiologist starts with a primary care physician. If you go to the doctor with certain symptoms or you have a family history of heart disease, your doctor may run tests to check for heart disease. 

If these tests show that you have heart disease, your primary care physician will most likely refer you to a cardiologist. It’s a good idea to see a cardiologist if you have:

  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Family members with heart disease
  • A history of smoking or you currently smoke

You can also choose to look for a cardiologist if you had a heart problem in the past but don’t anymore, like a heart problem during your childhood or pregnancy. Both of these past problems can increase your risk of another heart problem in the future. 

Narrowing Your Search

Choosing a cardiologist is not a decision to make lightly. If you’re trying to choose from a list of options, ask yourself these questions to narrow it down. 

Question: Where is the cardiologist’s office located? 

Why it matters: If you have active heart disease, you may be going to the office a lot for check-ups and tests. If you don’t want to drive a long distance, location is important!

Question: What are the cardiologist’s credentials?

Why it matters: Cardiologists should be board certified in cardiology by the American Board of Internal Medicine. In addition, some cardiologists have the acronym F.A.C.C. after their name. It stands for Fellow of the American College of Cardiology and is an optional designation based on credentials, achievements and contributions to the field of cardiology.

Question: Is the cardiologist covered by my insurance?

Why it matters: Nobody wants surprise medical expenses. Double-check with your insurance company or with the cardiology office to make sure they are in your network. 

Question: What do the cardiologist’s current patients have to say?

Why it matters: Talk to friends and family in your community. While online reviews can be helpful, you’re more likely to get an honest, unbiased answer from a current patient than a review on the Internet.

After You Find a Cardiologist

Once you’ve chosen a cardiologist, you’ll need to prepare for your first visit. Here’s how:

  1.  Write down your personal health history and the health history of your family
  2. Write down a list of medications you’re taking
  3. Gather any recent results from heart tests
  4. Make a list of questions to ask your cardiologist

When you see your cardiologist, they may perform some tests or refer you to another specialist for a test or treatment.

You might also work with other medical professionals to manage your condition, including:

  • Dietitians
  • Pharmacists
  • Endocrinologists (hormone doctors)
  • Podiatrists (foot doctors)
  • Ophthalmologists/optometrists (eye doctors) 

Remember, your primary care physician is still your doctor, too! They may coordinate your care if you need to see multiple doctors, and they’ll also help you manage your heart disease long-term.

About this Blog

The Penn Heart and Vascular blog provides the latest information on heart disease prevention, nutrition and breakthroughs in cardiovascular care.

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