Your Cardiologist

If the severity of your risk factors appears to put you at increased risk of heart attack or stroke, or if the lifestyle modifications you’re trying and the medications you’ve been taking to control your risk factors aren’t successful, then your primary care physician may refer you to a cardiologist. A cardiologist is a physician who’s typically completed four years of medical school, three years of training in internal medicine, and up to three or four additional years of education and training focused specifically on problems of the heart, arteries, and veins.

After you’re referred to a cardiologist, your primary care physician continues to be a key member of your cardiovascular care team, coordinating your care across various specialties and clinics and helping you manage your condition over the long term. Your primary care physician and your cardiologist should communicate with each other about the following:

  • Your overall condition
  • Results of your diagnostic tests
  • Outcomes of treatments
  • 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, including the following:

  • Interventional cardiologists specialize in procedures such as angioplasty and stenting
  • Cardiovascular surgeons who perform coronary bypass procedures
  • Electrophysiologists specialize in the heart's electrical system and irregular heartbeats
  • Imaging specialists use images of the patient's heart to diagnose problems
  • Preventive cardiologists work to prevent future problems
  • Congenital/pediatric cardiologists specialize in heart conditions in children and in heart defects that were present when the patient was born

While you’re under the care of your cardiology team, you may work with other healthcare professionals, including the following:

  • Physician assistants and nurse practitioners
  • Dieticians
  • A smoking cessation team
  • Diabetes educators

What to expect from your cardiologist appointment

When you go to a cardiologist for the first time, as with any physician, there are things you can do to prepare in advance, including the following:

  • Compile a personal health history and a health history of your family
  • Gather any recent test results and a list of medications you’re taking
  • Jot down notes about symptoms you’ve 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 several noninvasive diagnostic tests. The term “noninvasive" refers to tests that don’t require inserting diagnostic tubes into the heart or arteries. Some examples of tests your cardiologist may request include the following:

  • Stress test
  • Nuclear stress test
  • Echocardiogram (echo)
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan or cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan