a cardiologist handing a patient a playing card

What is a cardiologist, and what does a cardiologist do? Is it a doctor who hands out cards?

No, not exactly.

Okay, NO, not at all!

The truth is, a cardiologist is a physician who specializes in cardiovascular disease and diagnoses and treats conditions related to the heart. This branch of medicine is referred to as cardiology.

Knowing your medical terminology can help here. The term ‘cardiologist’ can be broken down to find its meaning:

cardi means heart; -ologist means specialist

Hence, a cardiologist is a heart specialist.

Cardiologists are not in the business of handing out cards, whether it be playing cards, greeting cards, or any other type of cards. (Just thought I’d add a little humor there.) 

Cardiologist Job Duties

According to The Society of Thoracic Surgeons, cardiologists treat:

  • severe hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • elevated cholesterol
  • heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias)

Cardiologists also:

  • perform stress tests to diagnose coronary disease
  • perform echocardiograms to diagnose holes in the heart or heart valve problems
  • order heart monitoring to detect atrial fibrillation or other rhythm issues

Specialized cardiologists perform procedures once a specific problem has been identified. For example, interventional cardiologists place stents in clogged arteries, close small holes in the heart, and place specialized devices in the heart.

Still, other cardiologists perform ablation procedures for atrial fibrillation or other rhythm problems, as well as implant pacemakers or defibrillators for more serious rhythm disturbances.

Cardiologists work in private practices, hospitals, and universities.

Heart Disease / Cardiovascular Disease

Heart disease is an umbrella term that describes many conditions affecting the heart. These conditions include blood vessel diseases, such as coronary artery disease (CAD),  heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias), and congenital heart defects, which you are born with.

As the Mayo Clinic reports, the terms “heart disease” and “cardiovascular disease” are often used to mean the same thing. However, cardiovascular disease generally refers to a condition that involves narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can cause a heart attack (myocardial infarction), chest pain (angina) or stroke (cerebrovascular accident). Heart disease, on the other hand, refers to such conditions as those that affect the heart’s muscle, valves, or rhythm.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. In 2009, more than half of the deaths due to heart disease were in men.
  • Coronary heart disease (CHD), is the most common type of heart disease, killing over 370,000 people every year.
  • Every year about 735,000 Americans have a heart attack. Of these cases, 525,000 are a first heart attack and 210,000 occur in people who have had a previous heart attack.

Function

According to The National Center for Biotechnology Information, the cardiovascular system, sometimes referred to as the circulatory system, is made up of the heart, blood vessels consisting of arteries, veins, and capillaries, and the blood itself. The cardiovascular system’s primary role is to transport blood throughout the body. Your body needs oxygen and nutrients in the blood to survive, and these important nutrients are transported through the blood to all areas of the body.

The term ‘cardiovascular’ can be broken down in this way:

cardio means heart; -vas- means vessel; -ular means relating to; system means organized whole

In other words, ‘cardiovascular’ relates to the heart and blood vessels.

The individual functions of the heart, blood vessels, and blood include:

  • Heart: a pumping device that receives blood from the veins and pumps it back into the arteries
  • Blood vessels are tubes that carry the blood through the body and consist of:
    • Arteries: carry blood away from the heart to all areas of the body, with the aorta being the largest artery in the body
    • Veins: carry the blood from the body back to the heart
    • Capillaries: microscopic blood vessels that connect the arteries and veins and allows nutrients and waste products to transfer between the blood and the cells
  • Blood: delivers oxygen and nutrients to all cells in the body and transfers waste out of the body 

Medical Terms

There are many medical terms related to the heart, which contain combining forms of card, cardi, or cardi/o. According to The Free Dictionary, some of these terms and their meanings include: 

  • Bradycardia: slowness of the heart rate, usually fewer than 60 beats per minute in an adult human
  • Cardiac: of, near, or relating to the heart
  • Cardiology: study and treatment of the heart and its functions
  • Carditis: inflammation of the muscle tissue of the heart
  • Cardiograph: an instrument used to record the mechanical movements of the heart
  • Cardiomegaly: abnormal enlargement of the heart
  • Cardiopulmonary: of, relating to, or involving both the heart and the lungs
  • Cardiovascular: of, relating to, or involving the heart and the blood vessels
  • Echocardiogram: a visual record produced by echocardiography
  • Epicardial: inner layer of the pericardium that is in actual contact with the surface of the heart
  • Myocarditis: inflammation of the myocardium (heart muscle)
  • Tachycardia: a rapid heart rate, especially one above 100 beats per minute in an adult

Other heart-related medical terms and their combining forms include:

  • Blood vessels: angi/o, vas/o
  • Blood: hem/o, hemat/o
  • Arteries: arteri/o
  • Capillaries: capill/o
  • Veins: phleb/o, ven/o

Also, something to keep in mind — coronary artery disease (CAD) and coronary heart disease (CHD) are used interchangeably and mean the same thing. CAD/CHD is the narrowing or blockage of the coronary arteries, usually caused by atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is the buildup of cholesterol and plaques on the inner walls of the arteries.

Conclusion

Hopefully, I have explained what a cardiologist does in a way that you can easily understand. Cardiologists do not play cards, hand out cards, or deal with cards in any way. Instead, they have the critical job of diagnosing and treating patients with cardiovascular disease and other heart conditions.

a cardiologist specializes in the heart and cardiovascular system, not in playing cards


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