What is a cardiologist?
A cardiologist is a doctor who’s an expert in heart and blood vessel diseases. They can treat heart diseases and help keep you from getting heart diseases.
After completing four years of medical school, cardiologists spend three years learning general internal medicine as a resident, plus at least three more years of specialized training after that.
After 10 years of training, a cardiologist can take an American Board of Internal Medicine exam. Even after achieving board certification, cardiologists keep learning for as long as they practice. They must keep up with the latest advances in how to treat patients to provide the best care.
What does a cardiologist do?
A cardiologist is a healthcare provider who can treat chest pain, high blood pressure and heart failure, as well as problems with your heart valves, blood vessels and other heart and vascular issues. They can order tests like electrocardiograms, echocardiograms and CTs (computed tomography) to find out what’s wrong. With their diagnosis, they can order medicine, help you start healthier exercise and eating habits or do cardiac catheterization.
A cardiologist will do a physical exam and discuss your symptoms, medical history and family history with you. It’s important to let your cardiologist know if other people in your family have had heart problems because that can increase the chances of you having a heart problem.
Some basic information can give your cardiologist valuable information about your cardiovascular health, such as your:
- Blood pressure.
- Cholesterol levels.
- Blood glucose (sugar) levels.
Your provider will look at all of this information and any test results to figure out your risk factors for heart problems. They’ll also want to know if you smoke, how much you exercise, what you eat and which medicines you’re taking.
What diseases do cardiologists treat or help you prevent?
Cardiologists can treat a wide range of heart and vascular problems, including:
- High blood pressure.
- High cholesterol.
- Angina (chest pain).
- Sudden cardiac arrest.
- Heart failure.
- Heart attack.
- Blood clots.
- Atrial fibrillation and other heart rhythm disorders.
- Cardiogenic shock.
- Heart valve problems.
- Heart abnormalities.
- Congenital (from birth) conditions.
- Problems with your aorta (aneurysm, stenosis).
- Problems with your arteries (peripheral artery disease, subclavian artery disease, renal artery disease, coronary artery disease).
What kind of tests does a cardiologist do?
A cardiologist can order the following tests, but other healthcare providers may perform some of these tests:
- Cardiac catheterization.
- Chest X-ray.
- Cardiac MRI (magnetic resonance imaging).
- Cardiac CT (computed tomography).
- Coronary angiogram.
- Stress tests.
- Electrocardiogram (EKG).
- Transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE).
- Holter monitor.
- Event monitor.
- Implantable event recorder/implantable loop recorder.
When to see a cardiologist
Your primary care provider may refer you to a cardiologist if you have a problem with your heart or blood vessels that needs extra care. If you’re feeling pain in your chest, dizziness or shortness of breath, you may need to see a cardiologist. Your cardiologist may keep working with you for a long time as they monitor your conditions.
What to expect at a cardiologist appointment
A cardiologist will do a physical exam, paying special attention to listening to your heart. They can hear how well blood flows throughout your heart and whether you have an irregular heart rhythm.
Be ready to answer questions about your family history and your own medical history. Your cardiologist will want to know if your siblings, parents or others in your family have had heart problems. Having this information can help your cardiologist know what types of heart problems you could have.
Your provider may ask:
- How long have you been having these symptoms?
- What does it feel like when you have symptoms (mild pain, sharp pain)?
- What were you doing when your symptoms started (resting, exerting yourself)?
- Does anything help you feel better when you have symptoms?
- Have you had a heart procedure or surgery in the past?
- Do you have records of any scans?
- What medicines are you taking now?
If your cardiologist has the equipment at their location, they may do an electrocardiogram to get a quick reading of your heart’s rhythm. They may also set up a separate appointment for other tests that take a little longer and require special scanning machines that only hospitals have.
Types of cardiologists
There are at least a dozen different kinds of cardiologists. They specialize in different kinds of heart and vascular problems, such as cardiac imaging or cardiac rehabilitation.
Although all cardiologists are experts in understanding your heart and blood vessels, they can narrow down their field of expertise even more. Types of cardiologists include:
- Clinical cardiologist.
- Heart failure specialist.
- Interventional cardiologist.
- Congenital heart specialist.
- Cardiac imaging specialist.
- Peripheral interventional cardiologist.
- Preventive cardiologist.
- Cardiac rehabilitation specialist.
- Geriatric cardiologist.
- Sports cardiologist.
- Critical care cardiologist.
Do I need a referral to see a cardiologist?
It depends. Some insurance plans may require you to get a referral from your primary care provider, so be sure to check with your insurance company for details. This can help you avoid the unwelcome surprise of a higher cost than you expected when visiting a cardiologist. It’s usually more expensive to see a specialist like a cardiologist than your primary care provider, but following your insurance company’s rules saves you money.
What does a cardiologist specialize in?
A cardiologist specializes in heart diseases, the top cause of death in America. Cardiologists can work in even more specialized areas of heart care, such as treating heart failure, heart rhythm problems or congenital (from birth) conditions, for example.
Where do cardiologists work?
You may see a cardiologist in the hospital where they work. Other cardiologists may have their own private offices where they see patients. They may send you to a hospital or other medical facility for testing or procedures.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
You may need a cardiologist if you’re having a problem with your heart or blood vessels. Depending on your situation, you may need a specific type of cardiologist who’s an expert in the condition you have. Your primary care provider can refer you to a cardiologist, but you need to be comfortable with the person your provider selected. If you feel they don’t communicate well with you, you may need to find a provider who does.
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