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What is a Heart Specialist?

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  • Written By: Mary Elizabeth
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 18 November 2016
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The heart is only one of the organs in the human body, but an organ that a person cannot live without. Therefore, people whose jobs involve caring for the heart are entering an important specialty that requires quality training. Heart specialist is a term applied to any of a number of trained professionals who provide medical care directly involving the heart. Four important types of heart specialist are cardiovascular technician, cardiovascular technologist, cardiologist, and cardiac surgeon.

Cardiovascular technicians perform several noninvasive tests, both electrocardiogram (EKG) stress testing and Holter monitor procedures. These tests are used in routine physicals, to pinpoint issues with the heart, and as a precursor to surgery. The stress test is a brief test done on a treadmill, with the heart under observation through an EKG monitor. A Holter monitor records the activity of a patient’s heart for 24 or more hours of the patient’s normal activity.

The heart specialist called a cardiovascular technologist performs invasive as well as non-invasive procedures. Noninvasive procedures include echocardiography, in which ultrasound waves are used to form an image that helps assess heart function. Vascular sonography, another non-invasive procedure, is used to assess blood flow. Invasive procedures performed by cardiovascular technologists include cardiac catheterization.

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A cardiologist is another type of heart specialist. A cardiologist is a physician who focuses on diseases of the heart, arteries, and veins, which together make up the cardiovascular system. Cardiologists are not trained in surgery. They treat patients with issues such as arrhythmia, cerebrovascular disease, congestive heart failure, coronary artery disease, heart attack or myocardial infarction, and hypertension. They may also have additional training in areas such as echocardiography, electrophysiology, interventional cardiology, or nuclear cardiology.

There are specialty areas that cardiologists may choose to focus in. A pediatric cardiologist, for example, is a doctor who diagnoses and treats diseases and abnormalities of the heart of patients from before birth to age 18. A nuclear cardiologist is a doctor who treats patients with radioactive material in non-invasive procedures.

Cardiac surgeon is a medical specialty that requires among the longest periods of training. Cardiac surgeons perform procedures such as repairs of congenital heart defects, valve replacements, heart transplants, and coronary artery bypass. The designation “cardiothoracic surgeon” indicates a surgeon who focuses on the lungs as well as the heart. Cardiac surgeons may also specialize in adult or pediatric surgery, and some specialize in a particular operation or procedure.

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