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What is cardiology?
Cardiology is a specialized branch of medicine that is concerned with disorders related to the heart. Cardiology focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of heart-related ailments and diseases such as congestive heart failure, musculoskeletal chest pain, deformities in the heart valves, unstable angina, rheumatic heart disease, infective pericarditis, and dyslipidemia, to name a few.
Specialists in cardiology are called cardiologists.
What does the cardiovascular system consist of, and what role does it play in our body?
Our cardiovascular system consists of the following:
The human heart is an organ solely made from muscles that pump blood around the clock throughout the body, even when you are asleep.
Blood vessels-arteries and veins
Arteries are tubular blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood away from the heart to the rest of the tissues and organs.
Veins are blood vessels that carry blood that is deoxygenated from other parts of the body back to the heart for oxygen replenishment.
The cardiovascular or circulatory system in the human body plays a pivotal role in the proper functioning of the rest of the organs and systems to keep the body fit and active.
- Blood is first sent from the heart to the lungs to get oxygen.
- Oxygenated blood comes to heart through pulmonary veins.
- The oxygenated blood is then sent by the heart through arteries to the other tissues and organs.
- Veins then carry the blood from the other organs of the body back to the heart.
- The heart then starts the entire process all over again.
The human heart is the only organ that works 24×7 year after year, right from birth to death. So it is important that proper care is provided to this organ.
What educational qualifications are required to become a cardiologist in India?
Becoming a cardiologist in India requires great focus, rigor, and determination. In order to become a cardiologist, one must first complete their 5.5-year MBBS and then complete their post-graduation in MD. A super-speciality in cardiology is required and is further specialized in this field.
When should you visit a cardiologist?
Many times you see a cardiologist when your general physician recommends you to consult a heart specialist. In addition to this, you should see a cardiologist if you experience any of the following:
- Chest discomfort
- Shortness of breath after some physical exertion or, in extreme cases, even when the body is at rest i.e., while sitting or lying down
- Frequent dizziness, which often feels as if you might faint soon
- Regular fatigue
- Swelling in legs
- A feeling that your heart is racing- medically termed as heart palpitations
- Rapid, noticeable weight gain
You should also visit a cardiologist if:
- There is a history of cardiovascular issues in your family
- You have hypertension, high cholesterol levels, and/or kidney-related disorders
- History of heart ailment
What should you expect when you visit a cardiologist?
If you or someone you care for has been asked to see a cardiologist, it might be worrisome initially. But there isn’t a reason to be anxious if you keep the following in mind prior to the appointment with the cardiologist.
- Before visiting a cardiologist, you should be prepared to discuss and provide accurate information about your current and past health-related issues.
- You should also find out about heart disorders that your family members may have had or have because, many times, cardiovascular ailments are genetic. Providing accurate information about your family’s heart ailment history is a crucial part of the diagnosis.
- You may also be asked about your food habits, the extent of physical exertion, and your daily lifestyle. Here, you should openly discuss the existing situation and not what you would ideally like it to be. This helps the doctor to shortlist the possible issues. If you drink and/or smoke regularly, remember that you mention this to your cardiologist, as this is important for your doctor to know.
- The cardiologist will also want to know about your medical history and see the results of any diagnostic tests and procedures previously conducted. So make sure you have access to your medical records with you prior to the appointment.
Depending on your symptoms, in order to make a diagnosis, your cardiologist may prescribe you to undergo one or more of the following tests:
- Chest X-Ray
- Cardiac CT
- Cardiac MRI
- Stress tests
- Holter monitoring
What should you ask your cardiologist during your appointment?
- How does your family’s cardiac history affect your current health status?
- Is your current weight, stress level, and lifestyle in any way associated with your symptoms?
- If yes, then what changes can you make in one or more of the above to improve your health?
- What is your current cholesterol level, and should you make dietary and lifestyle changes to get it in control?
- How would you know if you are having a heart attack?
Are cardiologists different from cardiothoracic surgeons?
Yes, a cardiologist is different from a cardiothoracic surgeon. Both specialists play a unique role in cardiovascular care.
While a general cardiologist is a specialist physician whose main role is to probe, identify and treat heart ailments, a cardiothoracic surgeon specializes in conducting extensive surgical procedures such as open heart surgery, heart transplants, and heart valve repairs.
A cardiologist is involved in the long-term care of the patient’s heart and is involved in the regular monitoring and treatment of ailments such as chronic hypertension and fluctuating cholesterol levels. On the other hand, cardiothoracic surgeons are one-time healthcare providers who usually only provide surgical and postoperative care.
How can you prepare yourself or a loved one prior to a cardiologist visit?
A slight feeling of nervousness and anxiety can be expected before a visit to a specialist is due. But at the same time, it is also very important to stay calm during the appointment. This is because the information that you provide to the cardiologist as a patient yourself or as a caregiver to a loved one plays a crucial role in making a diagnosis.
And also, remember no matter how major or minor a cardiac ailment is, the first step for its treatment is identifying where the problem lies.
If you feel very anxious prior to the appointment, try taking a few deep breaths and focusing on a fond memory that you have. This will help you to calm down.